Review: Memory Man by David Baldacci

Fiona Hicks 30 November -0001

The bestselling crime writer introduces a new detective hero in Memory Man. Meet Amos Decker, his life has been changed forever—and he’s out for revenge…

Memory Man David Baldacci
Memory Man by David Baldacci

Thriller detectives tend to be estimable people, even if they don’t lead enviable lives. Intelligent, determined, swarthy… broadly speaking, they’re often designed to be figures who men and admire and women desire. There are, of course, exceptions and a particularly notable one is David Baldacci’s new protagonist, Amos Decker.

Decker’s first appearance is in Memory Man. The story is as follows: the detective-turned-private inspector loses his family in a brutal homicide. 16 months later, there is a high school shooting in his hometown. Thrown into the mix with his former colleagues, Amos slowly realises that these two events are connected, and he’s the only one who can work out why.

Decker is a boldly drawn character, and refreshing as a result. Firstly, he’s grumpy (admittedly, with good reason) and does “not like interacting with people”, which makes for some rather engaging dialogue.

Secondly, he doesn’t look the part—Baldacci frequently draws attention to Decker’s obesity: a physical state, which is quite at odds with his mental brilliance.

Thirdly (there are many more), he possesses a near-superhuman trait, which almost catapults the story into the realms of science fiction. Not quite, though, because the condition Decker suffers from is real. A victim of severe head trauma when he was a young man, he now has hyperthymesia, meaning he can never forget anything. Not a single thing. This certainly has it advantages when you’re a detective, but also wreaks havoc on the essential human condition.

How would you feel if you could remember exactly what you head for breakfast on the same day seven years ago? Disconcerted, most likely.

David Baldacci author
Author David Baldacci, image via Fast Company 

Baldacci is often credited with being a master storyteller, and with good reason. This tale showcases of all the features of a quintessential thriller: a dark plotline, strong yet sympathetic characters and an unpredictable resolution.

Characteristic of Baldacci, it also moves at breakneck speed (there are plenty of one-line, chapter-ending paragraphs) so as a reader, there’s never the risk of becoming complacent.

It’s also a credit to Baldacci’s craft that he makes what’s essentially a very difficult character into a hugely likeable figure. There’s not one moment in which you’re not rooting for Decker.

The only slightly jarring element of the novel is that Decker rarely—if ever—gets anything wrong. Now this is of course partly symptomatic of his super-functioning mind, but it does rather take the edge off. A huge part of the appeal of thrillers is getting lost with the characters, going down the same dead ends as them, wondering how certain leads can possibly match up.

In a weird way, Decker’s brilliance does lessen the thrill somewhat because when he has an idea, you know he’s more or less always right.

The novel is nevertheless captivating. As well as the gripping plotline, Baldacci doesn’t shy away from delving into the very nature of existence. What gives someone character? Do your memories make you? How do experiences determine the rest of you life?

You’ll come away with these questions bouncing in your head. You may not remember them as long as Decker, but you certainly won’t forget to look out for his next appearance.


Listen to an extract of Memory Man, read by David Baldacci

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Listen to David Baldaaci discussing Memory Man with the Reader's Digest team: