No Man's Land
Interviewer: Elise Cooper
No Man’s Land by David
Baldacci on the surface seems like a science fiction
story. But this thriller featuring US Army criminal
investigator John Puller has a very plausible theme
with a compelling and action-packed plot.
The storyline has two men combating demons they experienced
thirty years ago. Seemingly unrelated, Baldacci does
a great job intertwining the two characters. Puller
‘s mother disappeared thirty years ago and now
CID investigators are accusing his father of possibly
murdering her. Aided by his brother Robert, an Air Force
major, and Veronica Knox, who works for a shadowy U.S.
intelligence organization, Puller begins a journey that
will take him back into his own past, to find the truth
about his mother. Simultaneously, Paul Rogers begins
his own journey after getting paroled from jail. He
was basically a guinea pig in an experiment to make
a “super soldier.” His body was altered
so that he wouldn’t fear physical pain, his brain
was changed so that he wouldn’t feel guilt over
killing, and he was changed to become a fighting machine.
Regretting being turned into a “monster,”
he seeks out the two people responsible for his plight
to make them pay for ruining his life.
Beyond this riveting and heart-wrenching story Baldacci
explores many issues, including dementia, human experiments,
and conspiracy theories. He has a knack for having the
reader hate some of the characters in the beginning,
only to root and care for them by the ending.
No Man’s Land is an edge of your seat
thriller. Readers will be hooked from page one. Besides
the tension edged plot, the thought provoking themes
will allow people to question how far military experiments
Q&A with David Baldacci
Elise Cooper: Many of your books have
a shout out to the military?
David Baldacci: My dad was in the
Navy, and I have a lot of friends in the military and
police. I think those in the military and police are
very special people, which is why I wrote this book
quote about Puller a former combat veteran and now a
CID investigator, sprinting ‘toward, not away
from, the violence.’ I have tremendous respect
for them. It is an incredibly difficult job under the
best of circumstances and far more complicated than
people realize. We need to hold these people up and
encourage them to serve in these professions.
Elise: DARPA, the Department of Defense’s
research arm on emerging technologies, plays a large
role in this book. Please Explain.
David: It is an interesting agency.
My super soldier theme is not all fiction, since they
have worked on it for a long time. A lot of what I spoke
about in the book is something they have been or are
currently working on, including brain implants, and
making soldiers able to heal themselves on the battlefield.
I think one of their long-range goals is to make our
fighting force more effective. I know this sounds very
H. G. Wells, but it is the way the world works.
Elise: Your character Paul Roders
seems to be a guinea pig to the scientists?
David: A friend of mine who is in
the military told me it is all about the mission and
personal safety does not come into the equation. I guess
guinea pigs are necessary to move the mission forward.
I wanted to attack this from the human side, and the
dark side of it all. At some point this has to be tested
on real people. Their goal is to make the soldier more
efficient, more combat ready, stronger, and with greater
endurance. A lot of this can only happen with technology.
Is it a dark or sweet part? General Robert E. Lee said.
‘It is well that war is so terrible – otherwise
we would grow too fond of it.’ We don’t
want to possibly change a person to being non-human.
I am not saying to stop the projects, but we must be
skeptical and ask the necessary questions about modifying
soldiers. We must be aware that technology and humanism
Elise: It was interesting how you
were able to change Rogers from a psychopath to a sympathetic
David: It was quite a challenge. I
started off with this guy who seemed like a monster,
who has killed people. Then I chipped away at the reader’s
perception of him. I tried to do it scene-by-scene,
paragraph-by-paragraph, word-by-word, and action-by-action.
I hoped to peel away layers of this monster to show
someone abused and modified. It was a unique challenge
to get people to care for this guy over the course of
Elise: Is this a conspiracy theory
David: I wanted to explore different
questions. Where do all the dollars go that fund DARPA?
Who is behind the scenes controlling it? Are they higher-ups
that can never be touched? Are these geo-political players
who try to benefit themselves?
Elise: You seem to enjoy writing stories
where the brain is affected?
David: Yes. I think about how the
brain defines personality, who someone is, and how they
react to others. When modified, changed, and pierced
by artificial means the outcome is very scary. Putting
something together that is supposedly perfect is only
in the eyes of the beholder. It’s their definition
of what is perfect. Let’s not forget Hitler’s
desire to create the perfect Aryan race. But I also
wrote in this book about how Puller’s father is
suffering from dementia, and he felt how he basically
lost him. It destroys people from within.
Elise: You continue that theme with
the backstory on John Puller?
David: Yes. In the first three Puller
books I gave little teasers. In this book I was able
to go back and allow him to see his childhood through
his own eyes. I hoped to humanize him and deepen his
character. I showed how human beings memories are a
funny thing. John could not remember some things from
his childhood that his brother, Robert, had. We tend
to embellish, de-emphasize, or banish to the dark corners
of our memory different thoughts. His childhood memories
Elise: Even with your Amos Decker
series you continue the theme about the affect on our
David: Yes. He is a former NFL player
who is unable to forget anything following a helmet-to-helmet
crash. This and the concussions affected him. For me,
it is now difficult to watch this sport, because I am
thinking about how their brains will be gone.
Elise: Can you give a heads up about
your next book?
David: It will be an Amos Decker story
called The Fix, out in April. He takes on a
case in Washington DC where he was a witness. It is
a clash between him and the inner workings of Washington
DC. I enjoy writing fiction that is based on realism
and can be thought provoking.