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Sunday, May 3, 2015


4 stars out of 5

What could be better than a new series by a favorite author? Answer: A little bit better story. Don't get me wrong, though; I enjoyed this one and absolutely will read the next one, and the next one, etc. But I was hoping for a WOW! kick-off, and it fell short (if only a tad).

The hero of the series is a big guy named Amos Decker, a former police detective and football star in Burlington. As with most characters like this, Amos comes with baggage - loads and loads of it, in fact. First off, his glory days were cut short on the very first play he attempted as a member of the Cleveland Browns pro football team (I'm from Ohio and a big fan, BTW); he took a hit that curtailed his promising football career and very nearly left him dead.

He survived, but not without very unusual after-effects; he has become an "acquired savant," with hyperthymesia. More simply put, he is one of two handfuls of people who remembers every single moment of every single day and can call any one of them up at will (if you watched TV's "60 Minutes" show back in 2010 or the "Unforgettable" series starring Poppy Montgomery, you know what I mean). Decker's condition is even more rare, though, because he also has synesthia abilities - meaning he is able to associate colors with people and objects. Accompanying all this is the loss of much of his ability to connect emotionally with other people.

Those rare abilities may seem like a good thing - and they certainly can be helpful to a police detective - but for the most part they're a liability because there's no way to get the memories out of his head (seeing them in living color as well does nothing to improve the situation). But he manages to get by until a couple of decades later when he gets hit with a blow that nearly kills him again: The grisly murders of his wife, young daughter and his wife's brother in their home. The killer isn't caught, and Decker heads into a downward spiral that takes him to the depths of despair - homeless and living on the streets.

Just as he's beginning to put his life back together some 16 months after the murders, there's a major turn of events as a man turns himself in and claims to be the killer of Decker's family. Couple that with a mass shooting at the local high school, and local law enforcement officials call on Decker to help (working with his former partner Mary Lancaster).

In large part because he's forced to call up old memories he's managed to push below the surface of his brain (insofar as possible), Decker is a reluctant participant in the investigation - which, thanks to the school shooting,  grows to include the FBI. But when it begins to appear that all the tragic events may be somehow related, the two cases take on even more significance and the rush to get to the truth becomes more of an all-out run.

And for the most part, it's a thrilling chase. If I have a complaint, it's that there is an over-abundance of repetition. Granted, given the nature of Decker's affliction, everything plays out in his head over and over and over; but reading it over and over bordered on the tiresome. Besides that, some of the details of how the school shootings were carried out seemed to cross the line of real-life possibility. Still, this book definitely set the stage for further development of this character, and I'm looking forward to the next installment.

Memory Man by David Baldacci (Grand Central Publishing, April 2015); 416 pp.

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