IN 1995 THIS CORPORATE LAWYER stepped away from the bar to give Grisham some competition. But if thriller author Baldacci were a book himself, he'd probably be shelved under Romance. "I first noticed the sincerity in his eyes," says Karen Spiegel, associate producer of the Clint Eastwood movie made from Baldacci's Absolute Power.
"And his handshake. When he shakes hands, his encompasses yours and it's strong." Baldacci, 37, developed that grip as a wrestler at Henrico High School in Richmond, Va. Wrestling also gave him his appealingly off-center nose. When he broke it during a senior-year match, the trainer packed it with cotton, and Baldacci went on to win—but he never had the nose reset. "It's got character," says his wife, Michelle, 32, a stay-at-home mother to their 3-year-old daughter and 1-year-old son. The 5'10" Baldacci keeps his fighting weight by working out in the custom-built gym in his brand-new Vienna, Va., mansion. "I don't want to see my body go downhill," he says. "My dad is 70 years old and still chops wood and has Popeye forearms." At book signings for his current bestseller Total Control,
fans often ask Baldacci why he's not in movies. "Acting looks easier than it is," he stick to writing.'