Memory Man by David Baldacci review: What if you could never forget?

Amos Decker’s life changed forever–twice.

The first time was on the gridiron. A big, towering athlete, he was the only person from his hometown of Burlington ever to go pro. But his career ended before it had a chance to begin. On his very first play, a violent helmet-to-helmet collision knocked him off the field for good, and left him with an improbable side effect–he can never forget anything.

The second time was at home nearly two decades later. Now a police detective, Decker returned from a stakeout one evening and entered a nightmare–his wife, young daughter, and brother-in-law had been murdered.

His family destroyed, their killer’s identity as mysterious as the motive behind the crime, and unable to forget a single detail from that horrible night, Decker finds his world collapsing around him. He leaves the police force, loses his home, and winds up on the street, taking piecemeal jobs as a private investigator when he can.

But over a year later, a man turns himself in to the police and confesses to the murders. At the same time a horrific event nearly brings Burlington to its knees, and Decker is called back in to help with this investigation. Decker also seizes his chance to learn what really happened to his family that night. To uncover the stunning truth, he must use his remarkable gifts and confront the burdens that go along with them. He must endure the memories he would much rather forget. And he may have to make the ultimate sacrifice.

Memory Man will stay with you long after the turn of the final page.

Memory Man is the story of Amos Decker – his life, his death and his resurrection in a way. Don’t get me wrong, Amos is very much alive when the book opens, but the loss of his wife and daughter in a murder some 16 months before ended him – that Amos Decker, cop and father died with his family. In fact, he almost did make that a reality himself, so deep was his sense of grief.

The hook here in this story is that Amos can never forget anything – as a result of a horrifying tackle on the football field, he can remember every detail of the night he found his family dead. The memories can never fade, they will never leave him, and the thought of that alone is horrifying.

When the book opens, Amos is notified that someone has walked into a police station and after 16 months of no leads whatsoever, confessed to killing his family. But nothing is ever that simple.

Soon, another event rocks this small town – a massacre at a school – and as the story continues, these two very different crimes start to become linked by one very common factor – Amos.

Working with his former partner, Lancaster, the FBI and a newspaper reporter, Amos starts to investigate the school rampage. It’s a complicated, twisty plot, but also very simple and elegant in some ways. But that you’ll have to read to find out.

So this is the question for me: can you enjoy a book in which the main character, an investigator, remembers everything – every clue, every detail – until he puts them together in his head in order to solve a crime?

I still don’t know the answer to this. On the one hand, Amos isn’t that simple – whatever his brain injury may have done to him it’s also changed him – changed his personality, the way he feels things. He can come across as a cold character as a result, a character observing the world without ever fully interacting with it now that his family is dead. To be fair, as the case evolves, and the investigation does as well, Amos does have moments where you get to feel through him – but these are centred on his family’s murders. He’s not an easy character to relate to, and I think the overwhelming, immense grief he’s experienced goes a long way to helping readers empathise with him, when normally I’m not sure he would’ve elicited that reaction.

But, on the other hand he is essentially the smartest person in every room that he’s in, putting together all the clues and moving the story along. He does everything, asks the right questions and knows more than anyone else because every report he reads, he remembers. How can a person like that be compelling without a personal story to have readers empathise with him?

I don’t know, I’ll probably read book 2 when it comes out to find out.

Or, maybe listen to it as I did in this case. Listening to this on audiobook made me realise that I really do have a thing for voices – give me the right voice, and I’m hooked. Case in point: Ron Mclarty and Orlagh Cassidy. Definitely made the time spent listening worth it.

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