Amos Decker’s life changed forever — twice.
The first time was on the gridiron. A big, towering athlete, he was the only person from his hometown of Burlington ever to go pro. But his career ended before it had a chance to begin. On his very first play, a violent helmet-to-helmet collision knocked him off the field for good, and left him with an improbable side effect — he can never forget anything.
The second time was at home nearly two decades later. Now a police detective, Decker returned from a stakeout one evening and entered a nightmare — his wife, young daughter, and brother-in-law had been murdered.
His family destroyed, their killer’s identity as mysterious as the motive behind the crime, and unable to forget a single detail from that horrible night, Decker finds his world collapsing around him. He leaves the police force, loses his home, and winds up on the street, taking piecemeal jobs as a private investigator when he can.
But over a year later, a man turns himself in to the police and confesses to the murders. At the same time a horrific event nearly brings Burlington to its knees, and Decker is called back in to help with this investigation. Decker also seizes his chance to learn what really happened to his family that night. To uncover the stunning truth, he must use his remarkable gifts and confront the burdens that go along with them. He must endure the memories he would much rather forget. And he may have to make the ultimate sacrifice.
I have reviewed many of Baldacci’s novels on CR, and loved pretty much all of them. I’ve read all of his novels since The Camel Club, and have also read almost all of his earlier ones. Each new series, each new character has been distinct from previous protagonists. Up until now, though, they have all been very much in the same mould: heroes, strong characters, some might say All-American. In Memory Man, Baldacci has tried something new — and successfully so. This is a very interesting mystery.
Amos Decker is an unusual protagonist for a thriller series. First, he is overweight and very down on his luck. A former football player who has most definitely gone to seed. Second, he has both hyperthymesia and synesthesia — the result of a devastating hit on the gridiron. His injury and condition have left him slightly odd, and also make it difficult for him to engage properly with others – as he says himself at one point, “I have no filters. I lost them years ago and never found them again.”
At the same time, his perfect autobiographical memory make him an excellent detective. The first few chapters of the book are aimed at helping readers get to know Amos. This includes some early, slightly unusual chapters that describe his synsethesia-perspective. They were interestingly done, but also a little strange. Once it’s all explained, though, it makes much more sense and becomes a really interesting addition. We also learn of his situation: following the death of his family, he entered a rapid downward spiral, and as the novel opens is just starting to pick himself up again.
Decker’s memory is never a crutch, interestingly, as Baldacci uses the novel and Decker’s investigation to explore the condition – popping some misunderstandings and common misconceptions (a perfect memory does not, for example, guarantee logical or deductive brilliance, but they can certainly help a great deal – luckily, Decker is also intelligent and very good at his job).
The story was interesting, too: someone steps forward to admit to committing the murders, but the situation quickly becomes strange and confusing as details and alibis don’t match up. Then, a mass-killing throws even more confusion into the mix, as it becomes clear that everything is connected in some way. It will just take time – perhaps too much time? – for Amos and his compatriots to figure it out. Along the way, we learn more of Amos’s past and his condition. It’s all very well-written, gripping throughout. The pacing is good, if a little slower at the beginning, but the second half of the novel moves briskly without ever feeling hurried or rushed.
Speaking of his compatriots, our hero is joined by his former police partner Lancaster, an FBI agent and his team, and also Alexandra Jamison, a journalist who seems to have a grudge against Decker. Together, they piece together their investigation in a methodical, quirky way.
Overall, Memory Man was an interesting and successful experiment in thriller writing. An engaging read, I blitzed through the final third in one morning. It’s less ‘exciting’ than some of Baldacci’s other novels and series – it doesn’t have the conspiracy sleuthing of the Camel Club novels, nor the international assassin-excitement of his more recent Will Robbie novels (among my favourite thrillers by anyone). This does not mean that Memory Man is a lesser novel – far from it. I would very much recommended this novel to all fans of thriller and crime fiction.