Amos Decker is an ex-detective who suffered a horrifying collision during his first professional football game leading to a brain injury. He was diagnosed with 2 extremely rare mental conditions- Hyperthymesia (the ability to recall an abnormally large number of life experiences in vivid detail) and Synesthesia (a neurological condition where senses overlap, eg- you can hear a word and instantly see a color).
Dealing with an altered personality, diminished social skills, and struggling to process emotions, Decker has to learn to live with his altered brain, which he often thinks of as a curse.
As if this wasn’t enough, Decker later faces another tragedy – the murder of his wife, daughter and brother-in-law. Overwhelmed and overcome by grief, he goes from a smart and active detective to an unhealthy, homeless, depressed man.
The plot consists of two mysteries- the murder of Deckers family, and a school shooting.
While Decker is busy numbing his pain through a meaningless life filled with binge-eating and seedy Private Detective work, a devastating shooting takes place at Mansfield High School. No longer a detective, Decker’s skills are still valuable enough for the police department to request his assistance in the investigation.
However, right before the shooting, a man suddenly confesses to the murder of Deckers family. Juggling these two investigations, Decker is shocked when he finds out that the two tragedies are connected. With the help of his old partner, a journalist, and an FBI agent, Decker races against time to find the killer before more lives are lost.
Memory Man by David Baldacci is a book you will absolutely not regret reading. It’s hard to put down and there’s a high chance you will ignore the world’s existence until you finish it (like I did). If you want an honest look into how a tragedy can impact a person in the most devastating way, while also craving a good mystery, Memory Man is your book.
You know those common crime story tropes in entertainment?
“Sad smart detective with a brutal backstory who needs a shit load of therapy but is definitely the only one who can solve the crime, and all the other detectives in the world can go jump off a cliff”
“Female partner who is either a hardass with something to prove or nags the sad detective to talk about his emotions”
Plus an FBI agent who might be “annoying/evil/the killer/just a plain douche”
(Why do FBI agents get such a bad rap? What did they even do to you??)
This book contains all but surprisingly doesn’t make you hate it.
Amos Decker’s hyperthymesia serves him well as a detective since it makes it impossible for him to forget any details of an event. Rewinding a memory often helps him catch something he previously missed.
However, because of his brain injury Decker does not feel emotions the way regular people do. Unable to accept sympathy or pity because he is unable to feel them himself, he also lacks social skills (very House-esque) and has the habit of suddenly walking away when hit with a brilliant thought (again very House-esque). (I definitely imagined House as Decker while reading the book)
Memory Man is honest, uncomfortably so. There is no filter to Decker’s grief. You can clearly see that this is a man who never dealt with his pain and is just going through the motions. Until the confession and school shooting.
David Baldacci does his best to stick to Decker’s personality of not being able to process many emotions due to his hyperthymesia. It makes him come across as somewhat numb, which is true to how his disorder impacts him but thankfully does not make Decker unsympathetic or disconnected from the terrible things happening around him. It’s a fine line to walk yet is done brilliantly by Baldacci. It’s helped by the fact that Decker is described as a man who is self aware and logically knows that his emotions and reactions are not the norm.
The supporting characters do an admirable job. They are not clones of one character with different names. Each has its own personality which either makes you want to hug them or smack them in the face with a cactus. And they’re not entirely useless! There were some really good character developments; the journalist who initially trashes Decker and is later apologetic, and the FBI Agent who develops a personality beyond “hmmm this man is connected to everything so he is suspect number 1”
And the mystery was top notch! It’s nothing like I imagined, to the extent where I felt a little embarrassed by how off base I was.
It’s hard to find something to dislike in this book. But if I’m going to be picky, it would be the description of Decker’s family. The book does not explore who they are (beyond the fact that they’ve been murdered) which makes me almost apathetic towards them (and I want books to make me feel something about everything!). I wish we got some anecdotes to actually make me like them beyond them being empty characters furthering the plot through their deaths.
Now this next part is for people who have certain reactions or emotions towards body issues. Decker is overweight. Extremely overweight. He becomes so after his family’s death due to depression and bad coping mechanisms. David Baldacci really likes to describe just how fat he is, how much he binges, how fat he is, how badly his clothes fit, how fat he is, how his belly bulges, and once again just so you truly get the point – how fat he is.
I get it. He is overweight. It’s described a bit graphically, but sort of accurate as well.
So hey, if that stuff freaks you out, just skip the paragraph. But remember, Decker is overweight.
Also – turns out, this is a series! Amos Decker has more books and I can’t wait to read the rest!
This is the first ever book review for this website. Coincidentally, it’s also the first book I’ve ever read by David Baldacci and wow, I had a lot of opinions!
I did not specifically choose Memory Man to be the first review. It was just lying around at home and seemed interesting enough.
I’m a huge fan of murder mysteries but quite cautious about them. Either I don’t feel a connection to the character (which makes me less sympathetic and rather done with their shit every 5 pages) or I’m pretty sure I know who the killer is halfway through. Thankfully, this turned out to be a book that truly kept the mystery alive. It was thrilling and chilling (cooler word for gave me chills, yes I am that embarrassing friend) and I could almost imagine I was right there with Decker, living in his misery and binge eating his life away.
Read time – It took me 2 nights to read this book but it can be done in one full day (and yes, snacking while reading)