Book Review: An Amateur Sleuth Can’t Forget

Written by Mark Wm Smith

An overeducated, blue-collar cowboy, Mark Wm Smith grew up on along the banks of the Yellowstone River in Eastern Montana. Raised by a long haul trucker and a bartending waitress, Mark learned the hard ways of the modern frontier, scraping life from the unforgiving high chaparral.

September 14, 2019

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Book Reviews

Title: Memory Man

Author: David Baldacci

Worth the read as Book 1 in The Amos Decker Memory Man series. Just ask 10,539 reviewers.

Forewarning: My review may suggest I disagree with other reviewers. As a writer who strives for the elusive perfect word, I’m harder to please. 

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This Review Has Been Modified

My original review offended some readers. I took their concerns to heart and rewrote it in less self-centered and self-righteous terms. Apologies to David Baldacci. His body of work speaks louder than my small voice.

Story

Tortured Police Detective Amos Decker comes home after shift one night to find his wife and daughter murdered. A brain-altering hit he received during his first game in the NFL ended his football career and left him with perfect memory recall. Haunted by the horrifying images, he spirals into a life on the streets until guilt over disappointing his wife and daughter eventually inspire him to clean up, get semi-stable and start working. 

His perfect memory and police training make him a capable private investigator who scratches out enough money to maintain a long-term stay in a hotel. Then his ex-partner visits him with news of a vagrant who confessed his family’s murder. Obsessed with uncovering the man’s motive and exacting revenge, he sneaks into Police holding to confront the culprit during a perfectly timed mass shooting at his hometown high school. 

These two events collide to exonerate the homeless man and send Decker on a tortured journey leading closer and closer to the answer he needs, at the cost of a life he no longer wants to live.

Character

Amos Decker is the perfect character for this story. Circumstances that destroyed his dreams also altered him into a superhero. He recreated a successful career and family life that made him a target for evil forces seeking to ruin him, or redefine him. He faces the challenge head on because he has no other choice.

His supporting characters meet the minimum standards. His difficult but persistent ex-partner smokes a pack a day to burn off unexplained emotional angst and show us Decker’s history as a Police Detective. The combative and accusatory FBI Agent plays the duel role of confronting Decker’s legitimacy while giving him access to an ongoing federal investigation. Amos’s former Police Captain surfaces to reveal a roughhewn compassion of Decker’s circumstances before withdrawing from the scene. A reporter raises questions about Decker’s possible involvement in the deaths of his family members and then switches teams to take the role of temporary partner whom Decker can share the deep, dark of his tortured past. The mysterious and powerful mastermind behind the murders meets genre expectations of an unknown person from the past who returns to surprise the audience with obvious retribution.

Plot

Amos begins his plot progression with the death of his family. The pace is quick in its race toward the inciting moment when the apparent cause of those deaths is identified. A fast and furious start that inspires further reading. The momentum slows, tension mounting around discoveries meant to heighten suspense. Predictable without being obvious or blasé by overused tropes. The book ends as it should, without great surprise. Or resonance. 

Style

My prejudices impede a fair-minded review of the writing style in this book. I felt Baldacci relied too much on modifiers which cluttered the narrative and crowded out imagination. In a similar manner, the use of repetition and uninspired dialogue caused a disturbance in my experience of the characters. To my mind, elegance took a back seat to expedience. At significant cost to the story, I believe. 

In Mr. Baldacci’s defense, his catalogue is extensive and the crime thriller genre tends to withstand this stylistic minimalism. It is likely you can ignore the technical challenges more readily than I and simply enjoy the read.

Audience

Readers who love crime thrillers and detective novels should appreciate this book. David Baldacci has an enormous readership that proves the point. My disappointment stems in large part from expecting more style and strength of writing. Raised on John D. McDonald, Louis L’Amour, Lawrence Block and Ed McBain/Evan Hunter, I hoped for tight writing or flourish that expanded the experience. In my opinion, Baldacci missed the opportunity to employ those tools.

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