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.

Review: The Whole Truth by David Baldacci

thewholetruthDavid Baldacci’s THE WHOLE TRUTH has a plot that would be perfectly suited to a James Bond film: the head of a major arms vendor is plotting to ignite a new Cold War by manufacturing a conflict between Russia and China through a campaign of disinformation and murder. Secret agent Shaw becomes involved when his fiancé is one of the innocents killed, and so he teams up with an alcoholic reporter – inadvertently drawn into this whole mess – to dismantle the arms vendor’s nefarious plans. So, the plot’s not outrageously original, but regardless, has the potential to be the foundation for a solidly entertaining novel. And that’s what THE WHOLE TRUTH is; a somewhat formulaic action romp; a thriller that doesn’t always thrill, but provides a few hours of entertainment.

Baldacci’s prose is incredibly readable. His words flow. He doesn’t litter his narratives with memorable lines or particularly punch dialogue; he’s just an effective storyteller, and demonstrates this time and time again. THE WHOLE TRUTH is an easy read. It’s not especially intricate, but I suppose it’s not trying to be. The problem is, there’s too much exposition. Too many scenes feature the protagonist or the villain deliberating over their actions; quite literally breaking down their reasons for behaving as they are. It occasionally felt like Baldacci was hand feeding me, and quite unnecessarily so. As a result, sections of the novel lag. It doesn’t ruin the experience, but a slightly heavier edit might’ve streamlined the tale. The book’s other major flaw is its largely uninspired characters. There is very little to distinguish Shaw from a Jason Bourne or James Bond or Mitch Rapp. Which isn’t a huge issue – these kinds of heroes only exist to push the plot forward rather than stand as beacons of deep, rich characterization – but it’s still a tad disappointing.

That aside, the plot, for the most part, moves at pace, building to a conclusion that I’d expected to be far more spectacular than what eventuated, but was satisfying nonetheless. I finished THE WHOLE TRUTH satisfied with my reading experience, but not blown away. This is an enjoyable thriller – perfect for a daily commute – but doesn’t stand out in its crowded genre. Serviceable rather than outstanding.