Review: The Last Mile by David Baldacci

BaldacciIn last year’s Memory Man, David Baldacci introduced new series protagonist Amos Decker, who suffered a violent collision in his first professional NFL game, which jolted his brain and left him with an incurable mental condition: hyperthymesia. Consequently, Decker now possesses an infallible memory: he can replay moments of his life, scene-by-scene; whatever he hears, reads or witnesses, he remembers — which means the details of the brazen murders of his wife and child will never fade. In Memory Man, Decker finally solved the case that tore apart his life, and was subsequently offered an opportunity to join an elite FBI task force focused on cold cases. He took it: and The Last Mile centres around that task force’s first case.

Convicted murder Melvin Mars is counting down his final hours. Twenty years ago he was accused of the brutal killing of his parents, and he recently lost his final appeal. The end is nigh. But at the very last moment, another man confesses to the crime, and Mars is released. But with the best years of his life vanquished — years he would’ve spent in the NFL, for he was destined to be a star — he doesn’t have much left to live for . . . besides understanding what truly happened the night his parents were murdered. Enter: Amos Decker and his Quantico comrades, including Special Agent Ross Bogart, journalist Alexandra Jamison, FBI field agent Todd Milligan, and clinical psychologist Lisa Davenport. Their unit has agreed that something about Melvin’s case doesn’t add up – but when the ramifications of decades-old racial prejudices come to light, and the killing starts, it’s clear the fledgling task force might’ve bitten off more than it can chew.

The Last Mile is a sufficiently compelling mystery, laced with implausible scenarios, but packaged for maximum readability. While much of the dialogue is stilted (and lacking any sort of nuance), and too many of the characters lack any sort of personality, the layered plot and its countless red herrings ensure readers will be turning the pages into the wee hours of the morning. As a mystery novel, it is serviceable; as an Amos Decker novel, it’s disappointing, simply because his maximised brain power rarely gets a chance to shine. Melvin Mars’s case is solved more through traditional detective work than Decker’s uncanny recall — so why make Decker the protagonist in the first place? Why not keep the character in reserve for specific storylines that necessitate peerless memory?

Still, millions of readers can’t be wrong, and Baldacci’s latest will doubtless be enjoyed by his die-hard fans and those looking for an easy, uncomplicated yarn. For the rest of us though, The Last Mile doesn’t do enough to separate itself from an increasingly crowded market. Ultimately, it’s readable, but forgettable. Baldacci’s got plenty of talent, but it feels like his increased output is diluting the quality of his work. That said, I’ll cross my fingers, and hope for a return to form in his next, because all misgivings aside, I remain one of his faithful readers.

ISBN: 9781447277835
ISBN-10: 144727783X
Format: Paperback  (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 352
Imprint: Macmillan
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Publish Date: 21-Apr-2016
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

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