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

Review: Memory Man by David Baldacci

Memory Man US CoverThe mentally gifted (yet impaired) Amos Decker salvages David Baldacci’s latest blockbuster, which serves up plenty of twists and turns, but lacks the thrills readers have come to expect.

Amos Decker’s football career ended before it truly began. During his first ever game a violent collision jolted his brain and knocked him unconscious. The event left him with an incurable condition: hyperthymesia. Decker possesses an extremely detailed autobiographical memory; he can replay moments of his life, scene-by-scene; whatever he hears, reads or witnesses, he remembers. A gift rather than a curse, you might think; but Decker’s hyperthymesia dulled his other emotions. He’s callous, now; unconsciously insensitive; humourless. Despite this, Decker made the most of his condition, joining the Burlington Police Department, and eventually rising to the rank of detective. He even found love along the way: Decker’s a family man, with a wife and child waiting for him at home after every shift.

Memory Man coverUntil the night he returns home and finds his family viciously murdered; cruelly a sight Decker can never un-see, can never forget, no matter how hard he tries. Many months later, with Decker at his lowest ebb, a man walks into a Burlington precinct and confesses to the crime. That same day there is a massacre at a nearby school, which proves to be just the beginning of a murderous crusade. Decker holds the key to ending the violence . . . but how can a man with an infallible memory not recall vital information?

Memory Man is a solid mystery with a compelling protagonist. A tighter edit would’ve added much-need impetus to the plot which, though baroque, plods along in its second act. It’s not his best, but fans will surely lap it up, and with Baldacci at the height of his puissance, no doubt he will quickly rectify this slight stumble.

My thanks to Grand Central Publishing and NetGalley for providing a digital galley of Memory Man for review.