Thursday, July 18, 2019

Memory Man by David Baldacci, 2015

Amos Decker is Memory Man.

The bearded and massively-built protagonist—a former homicide detective-turned-private investigator-turned-police consultant—has a rare gift: he remembers everything and forgets nothing. Events, experiences, people, faces, names, objects, shapes, numbers, dates, time, hour, minutes, seconds…the result of a violent collision on the football field when he was twenty-two years old.

The accident ruins Decker's professional football career but leaves him with a super autobiographical memory, the ability to recall just about everything that has happened in his life. 

If you are a student and about to take a Math or History test, you would want what Decker has.

Decker puts his extraordinary perceptive faculties and deductive reasoning to good use: he joins the Burlington Police Department where he and his partner and friend, Detective Mary Lancaster, make a formidable team in crime investigation.

One evening, Decker returns home from work to find his wife, little girl and brother-in-law murdered; his wife and daughter genitally mutilated. The shocking tragedy sends his life into a tailspin. He leaves home, gives up his job, and lives off the streets, basically not caring what happens to him. Eventually, Decker establishes a semblance of life by working as a reclusive private investigator, taking up inconsequential cases, probably just to stay alive. Meanwhile, the case remains unsolved.

More than a year later, the sudden appearance of a strange man, Sebastian Leopold, who walks up to the police and confesses to the murders, in spite of a watertight alibi, and a calculated mass shooting at the local high school around the same time jolts Decker back to reality. His former boss, Captain Miller, persuades him to be a part of the investigation into the shootout. Decker agrees in the hope that he can also find out who killed his family.

Decker joins his former partner, Lancaster, in the school library—the war room—with the FBI for company. But he works largely alone, much to the annoyance of Lancaster and special FBI agent Sam Bogart, bringing them in only after he has successfully pursued a lead.

What he uncovers over the next few days leaves him stunned—the person (or persons) who wiped out his family was also responsible for killing the targeted students and staff at the school. His remarkable mental abilities initially fail to throw up faces or names of people he might have wronged in the past and who might want to get back at him through his family.

As more people, including a female FBI agent, turn up dead, Decker makes another chilling discovery—he is going to be the final victim.

Amos Decker is one of the most unusual characters I have read in crime fiction. The tragedy has left him bereft of emotion but not without empathy. His brilliant mind makes him unique in a way that it makes everyone around him—his partner Mary Lancaster, special agent Bogart, with whom he has a strained relationship in the beginning, and opportunistic reporter-turned-amateur sleuth Alexandra Jamison—almost redundant. He finds most of the clues and assembles the missing pieces. It comes to a point, later on in the book, where the three wait for a cue from Decker and do exactly as he deduces.

As a reader, I couldn't help question their purpose in the narrative. I also felt it was one of two weak spots in what was otherwise a novel filled with suspense and speculation, though not enough to keep me on tenterhooks. The other was the motive behind all the murders, which wasn't as convincing as I'd have liked it to be.

Still, Memory Man is a well-crafted thriller with an unusual storyline and an intriguing hero. The novel's strength lies in its singular focus on the Goliath-like character who sweeps the crime novel from start to end, both as a grieving family man and as a razor-sharp homicide detective. I will be keen to read more on Amos Decker in the five-book series.


  1. Nice to see you posting again Prashant! I haven't read any Baldacci, though I know he is very successful. This sounds a bit too violent for me...

    1. Hello, Moira! It is good to be back though I'm trying to post as regularly as possible. I will be reading more of Baldacci, especially the Amos Decker series to see how his sleuthing career shapes up.