Book Review: An Amateur Sleuth Can’t Forget
Updated: Dec 28, 2020
Book review of David Baldacci's novel Memory Man
Title: Memory Man
Author: David Baldacci
Worth the read as Book 1 in The Amos Decker Memory Man series. Just ask 10,539 reviewers.
My Take On the Novel
The opening scene gripped me as strongly as the premise—a man who can’t forget haunted by the minutest details of finding his family murdered.
Can I say this moved me, shook me up, increased my wish to see the protagonist come out on top? It did those things. It also elevated my sense of responsibility to my tribe and intensified my compassion for people who have preternatural “gifts.” My fascination with the scenario drove me to read on.
Based on the first scene and the premise—a rogue cop falls to pieces after coming home to find his wife and child murdered and never solves the case—I would recommend this novel. It is a fascinating idea, full of suspense and intrigue.
I cannot say it would end up on a gift list, unless I knew the individual loved David Baldacci. Or, I knew they were studying bestselling crime fiction.
Tortured Police Detective Amos Decker returns from a late shift and finds his wife and daughter murdered. Because of a brain-altering hit he received during his first game in the NFL, the one that ended his football career and left him with perfect memory recall, he cannot forget a single detail of that night. Haunted by the horrifying images, he spirals into homelessness until guilt at disappointing his wife and daughter inspire him to clean up and start working again—as a private investigator-slash-enforcer.
His perfect memory and police training make him a capable investigator who scratches out enough cash to support a long-term stay in a hotel. But then his ex-partner visits him with news of a vagrant who confessed to the murder of his people. He becomes, naturally, obsessed with uncovering the guy’s motive and exacting revenge. He sneaks into Police holding and confronts the culprit during a serendipitous mass shooting at his hometown high school.
The pace is quick in its race toward the inciting moment when Decker is called to help with the high school shooting investigation. Momentum slows as tension mounts with around a collision of facts that exonerate the homeless guy 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. Clues are predictable without being obvious or blasé by overused tropes.
The novel ends as it should, without great surprise. Or resonance.
Amos Decker is the perfect protagonist for this novel. Circumstances that destroyed his dreams also altered him to the status of superhero. He becomes an easy target for evil forces seeking to ruin or redefine him, and he must face the challenge head on because he has no other choice.
Decker’s supporting characters meet the minimum standards. A 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 a duel role of confronting Decker’s legitimacy while giving him access to an ongoing federal investigation. Amos’s former Police Captain surfaces to show a roughhewn compassion of Decker’s circumstances before disappearing. A reporter raises questions about Decker’s involvement in the deaths of his family members before switching teams to take the role of temporary partner whom Decker can share the bottomless dark of his tortured history. The mysterious and powerful mastermind behind the murders meets genre expectations of an unknown person from the past who returns to surprise the audience.
“He opened his mouth and swallowed the muzzle, angling it upward so the bullet would hit the brain and make the end quick. His finger came to rest on the trigger guard. He looked up at Molly. Embarrassed, he slipped the gun out and put it against his right temple and closed his eyes so he couldn’t see her. Again, his index finger slipped to the trigger guard. Once past it, to the trigger, then the slow, steady pull until the point of no return. He’d never feel anything. His brain dead before it could tell the rest of his body that he’d jacked himself.
He just had to pull. Just pull, Amos. You got nothing to lose because you got nothing left. They’re gone. They’re… gone.
He held the gun there, wondering what he would say to his family once they were all reunited.”
Baldacci, David. Memory Man (Memory Man series Book 1) (p. 5). Grand Central Publishing. Kindle Edition.
Who Will Like This Book?
Readers who love crime thrillers and detective novels should appreciate this work. David Baldacci has an enormous readership that proves the point.
Number of Stars- My Subjective Opinion
I give Memory Man 3.5 stars. It has a powerful premise and strong lead—one can’t help but root for Amos Decker. The story line is almost surprising but falls short. The writer missed an opportunity to pull symbolism into resonance. (I know, it’s easy to be a critic.)
My disappointment stems 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. Mr. Baldacci missed the opportunity to employ those tools.
Amos Decker is not technically an “amateur sleuth” as my blog title suggests. He is a police detective fallen from grace. His professional status got shot down by circumstance. I only use that term because it suits my theme.