5 stars out of 5
It's for sure no one will ever accuse me of being a compliant little wifey-poo. Still, more often than not when I've got my nose in my Kindle and my husband pops up with, "Honey, do we have more of yesterday's chocolate pudding?" my response is something like, "Let me finish this chapter and I'll go check."
But when my nose is in a book like this one, my mouth sings a different tune: "I can't see in the fridge from my chair, babe. If you find some, how about bringing me a bowl while you're up?"
Oh, yeah - this book is that good.
Actually, it's the second in the author's new series that debuted last year featuring Amos Decker, whose promising NFL football career was derailed by a serious head injury during his first game for the Cleveland Browns ("my" team, BTW). As a result, he not only is able to remember every single detail of every single minute of every single day (a rare condition called hyperthymesia), but he associates many of them with vivid colors (an even more rare synesthia). That first book, Memory Man, was quite good, but this one jumped to the top of my enjoyment meter from the get-go. For the record, it stands on its own just fine, but I suggest starting at the beginning (as I do with any series).
Football, in fact, that is the reason Decker, just picked to be on an FBI special task force, wants to take on a particular case. Melvin Mars, who's been in prison for 20 years after being convicted of murdering his parents, is set to be executed in a few hours. At the eleventh hour, another death-row prisoner confesses to the killing, and Mars gets a reprieve from walking "the last mile" to the chamber. Mars once beat the shoulder pads off of Decker when the latter was playing for The Ohio State University Buckeyes (go Bucks!) Not only that, but Decker's own family was murdered, and years after that, a suspect confessed. The similarities are impossible for Decker to overlook (well, let's be honest - given his condition, it's impossible for Decker to overlook much of anything), and he convinces the reluctant head of the FBI team to take on Mars's case.
The stakes for getting to the truth are high; in one outcome, an innocent man could be executed. In another, a murderer could be set free. The trail begins, of course, with attempts to learn whether the prisoner's last-ditch confession is true and why he waited so long to make it. That's not an easy task since he's dead (choosing to go out, for some inexplicable reason, via the electric chair rather than the now-standard lethal injection). But guided by Decker's unfailing recollections and ability to not only find puzzle pieces but pull them together, team members uncover clues and follow where they lead. When one teamster suddenly disappears - presumed to have been kidnapped - things really start to heat up.
There's no shortage of action and twists (and I'm patting myself on the back for figuring out one of the biggest ones). But the big attraction for me, without question, is Decker himself. I seriously doubt I'd like him much if I met him in person - for openers, his conditions have left him rather devoid of emotions - but watching [reading] how his mind works is absolutely fascinating to me. If I'm forced to say something on the negative side, I'll admit the plot (and outcome) smack a little bit of coming up with an ending and making the details fit after the fact. But hey: As stand-up accordion-toting comedian Judy Tenuta is fond of saying, "It could happen!"
All I know is it sure worked for me. Kudos (and more, please)!
The Last Mile by David Baldacci (Grand Central Publishing, April 2016); 432 pp.