Michelle Maxwell is one of two protagonists in the Michelle Maxwell and Sean King series by David Baldacci. I’ve been listening to the series, after the short-lived TV series was cancelled. I decided that the books deserved a re-read and the audio format worked for me.
Michelle Maxwell is not working for Baldacci’s readers in the third book, Simple Genius. According to various reviewers on Goodreads, Maxwell acted out of character and, perhaps most damaging, in an unbelievable fashion.
I disagree. Baldacci clearly calls out that she is a women who is driven, pursuing every goal, every obstacle put in front of her with a single-minded determination to destroy them. A fair amount of her story in this book is setting up a plot twist that goes back to her childhood and explains several of her personality quirks. The situation adds an interesting new character — Horatio Barnes — a psychologist that King employs to help Maxwell when she tries to take on an opponent who might be better than her. While the extreme measures Maxwell took in the fight might have seemed out of character, it is consistent with her previous behavior. In this case, the physical exertion was the same, but the situation was different; instead of chasing down a criminal, Maxwell picked a fight with a guy in a bar. If that character and scene had been at the end of the book instead of the beginning and the opponent had been the bad guy, no one would have thought twice about the supposed character break.
However, that’s the point that Horatio’s role. It is to tease out what we should have known all along: something is off about Maxwell’s personality. Sure, she’s channeling into good deeds, saving people and putting away the bad guys, but something is wrong with her.
The typically “good” traits are singled out in this title and given scrutiny. The reader should evaluate not the changes in the circumstances around Maxwell’s behavior, but the behavior itself. Physically assaulting another person is not easy and something that most of us never will do. Is training alone enough to over come the natural reaction that most people have? Is Maxwell’s background as a former Olympic rower and former CIA agent truly sufficient to explain her willingness, nay, eagerness to violence when correcting a perceived wrong?
I think Baldacci is developing Maxwell’s character, not destroying it. He is taking a strong, intelligent woman who is a survivor and given her a back story that adds to the strength and intelligence readers already recognize and want to see from her. Does that strength and intelligence change because of her back story? Obviously it did to some of the Goodreads reviewers. For me, I’m excited to see what happens in book four. Did Baldacci use this character development as I expected?