Memory Man

Author: David Baldacci
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

You can do this in groups or with just one other person. But me, I like to do it by myself.

Before you look at me funny, I’m talking about people-watching, which is quite possibly one of my favourite things to do. Not only because I enjoy silently taking note of (and judging!) people’s fashion choices, though. From simple observations, I can even come up with the stories of their lives.

And much like me, detective Amos Decker finds himself watching people on multiple occasions, too. The only difference? Decker is, in clinical terms, “an acquired savant with hyperthymesia and synesthesia abilities”, meaning he has a super memory and can recall every detail.

Yes. Every. Single. Detail.

But the former American football player – who played all through secondary school and college – wasn’t born with this trait. In his first professional game, he was on the receiving end of a vicious blow to the head, which did more than just knock him out – he was pronounced legally dead.

However, Decker’s subsequent recovery led doctors to discover that his brain had been rewired to become “one of the most exceptional brains in the world”.

This sounds like a novelist’s dream detective, one who has total recall of anything he sees.

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But in David Baldacci’s Memory Man, Decker’s law enforcement career comes to a halt when he comes home one night to find his wife, nine-year-old daughter and brother mercilessly murdered.

Try as he might, Decker can’t shake off the gory details. And so begins his downward spiral from the day he loses his loved ones and almost kills himself.

Besides quitting the police force, losing his house and car, and gaining a lot of weight, the once respectable cop now lives out of a motel and takes up small private investigation jobs to get by.

With Decker moving around the small town of Burlington like a dark cloud and the murders remaining unsolved 16 months later, the first part of the book is tough to get through.

When a man walks in and confesses to the murders, there seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel for the troubled Decker (and for me, too!).

At the same time, there is a mass shooting at his former secondary school, leading the police to invite Decker to join the investigation. Evidence emerges of a disturbing connection between the killings and the killer’s clear hatred of the detective.

If I didn’t have to review this book, I probably would not have finished it. But its saving grace lies in the way Baldacci brings it to life, by pitting his superhero-like main character against an intellectual equal, allowing Decker and Decker alone to figure out the killer’s identity.

Undeniably, Memory Man is strange in some ways, but it is a complicated and captivating read.

And even though we mere mortals are not blessed with Decker’s amazing memory, this first book of the Amos Decker series turned out to be an unforgettable read for me.