Personal best: David Baldacci selects his five best novels
David Baldacci has written over 30 bestselling thriller novels but which are his personal favourites?
1. Absolute Power
was my first novel and it’s always going to be a favourite. I’d been writing since I was a kid. I spent 15 years writing short stories but you can’t make a living that way. So I had to go to college and spend 10 years practising law as a way to earn money, but I always kept on writing. If I didn’t love writing, I would have stopped years ago, because I got so many rejections. At the time I was writing screenplays, trying to break into Hollywood – I even had an agent in Los Angeles – and it was around this time I had the idea for Absolute Power
: what if a burglar witnessed the President of the United States committing murder? It took me around three years to write Absolute Power
. At the time, I had a full-time job, so I would work all day, come home at night to see my young family, and then write from 10 at night until three in the morning. It sounds draconian but that was the only time I had to write.
I wrote the whole 500-page novel and compiled a list of agents who’d successfully placed debuts, because that told me they had the wherewithal to get a first novel through. I sent it to half a dozen agents with a cover letter defying them not to read the whole book once they’d read the first page. That sounds pompous, but I didn’t think I’d hear back from any of them, anyway. Instead, within a couple of weeks, I heard back from all of them – and they all wanted to represent me without exception. It was unreal.
The moment when I realised I’d made it was when I saw Absolute Power
on sale in a bookstore for the first time. That changed everything. I thought: “I can make a career out of this.” That was a good feeling. My wife and I had a long talk about it and I said: “Look, I can always go back to being a lawyer.” Fortunately, becoming a full-time author did work out.
Start reading Absolute Power
2. The Winner
Even though this book was written in 1998, I still get emails about my villain in this book, who figured out a way to fix the US National Lottery. My goal with Jackson was for the reader to fear him every time he appeared on the page. Years later, I got a phone call from a journalist at La Repubblica in Rome, Italy and he asked if I’d been following the Italian lottery scandal. When I said no, he said, well, people have fixed the National Lottery using a method similar to what you wrote about inThe Winner
. And I thought, despite the illegality of it, well, that’s pretty frickin’ cool.
Start reading The Winner
3. Wish You Well
It’s a historical novel, but the setting is where my mother grew up in southwest Virginia. Very rural. They didn’t get electricity and running water until 2004. Wish You Well
was very much a labour of love, very different to my other books. This wasn’t a thriller, this was my To Kill a Mockingbird
. I interviewed my mom for her recollections of growing up. I’m very proud of it and my publisher was very supportive, despite my being known for mysteries. Writing a book set in Forties rural Virginia was a real challenge. But if a writer doesn’t stretch himself, he withers on the vine. If authors don’t scare themselves, they end up writing to a formula, and I have never wanted to do that. I want to be terrified each time I sit down at my desk. It’s got to feel like starting over every time.
Start reading Wish You Well
Can you guess what numbers four and five are?
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