The Last Mile|
A novel by David Baldacci
Book review by Jules Brenner
Grand Central, released 4/19/16, 432 pp., $29.00
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In Baldacci's first Amos Decker novel, "Memory Man," his hero went through a
tragedy of terrible loss only to be compensated later with a second trauma
that some might think evens things out for the miserable football player. Six
foot five and nearly 400 pounds with an appetite to match, the gift happened
during an NFL game when a hit in the head left him with something called
hyperthymesia. Pretty much, it's the opposite brain malfunction from
amnesia. Amos Decker has a perfect memory.
In Baldacci's dramatic and suspenseful followup fantasy, suggestive of some
surreal TV series that have attracted strong followings of late, the two
events were like a chemistry test with an almost benevolent outcome
pertaining to crime and punishment. It turned him into a private investigator
with his first case being to find the man who killed his wife, daughter and
brother-in-law in a home invasion twenty years ago.
Employing his mind alteration, he had solved the case and assisted the FBI in
sending Melvin Mars, a star running back with the Longhorns at the U of
Texas, to Death Row. Coincidental? Baldacci is only getting started with what
he wants us to believe.
Linebacker Decker has a vivid memory of the game in which the elite Melvin
Mars showed him that he was a far lesser athlete. It was later when he
learned that Melvin had lost his parents under circumstances similar to his
own. But, now, though the clues and the evidence all made a case against
Mars, and with execution imminent, Decker is having second thoughts.
Just when another death row inmate from another state confesses to Mars'
crime, giving the old football star a last-minute reprieve.
Stepping into this saga is Special Agent Ross Bogart of the FBI contacting
Decker to join his new unit to chase down selected cold cases. The idea is to
bring together citizen specialists with a field agent for a different
approach toward solving crimes. Having seen Decker in action during the last
case, he wants the skillful PI to join a clinical psychologist, a journalist
and an agent to pursue other unsolveds.
After locking horns with the intractable agent Milligan and succeeding in
having the unit focus on the Mars mess, Decker's demonstration of remarkable
insight and investigative strategy make him the undisputed leader of the
One of the attributes of this opening is Baldacci's clarity, economy of
characters and the promise of something rather novel in the remaining several
hundred pages that will feature a man with a perfect memory solving a unique
mystery. Alas, Balducci is more promise than delivery in introducing
compelling elements but can't seem to fully utilize the memory capability as
integral to plot developments. Instead, he wears down that initial
fascination with more detail and repetition than necessary.
Acordingly, Decker's demonstration of amazing mental agility at the start
dissipates in the second act. The resolution, when it finally comes, I found
inadequtely concocted and resting on amateur psychology. Even more bothersome
was the use of "effed up" from the mouth of a killer as though Baldacci was
writing for a juvenile audience. (His kids?)
Having said all that, I confess that Baldacci's writing struck me as having
improved from the last novel of his that I read. Because of that and the
hooks in the first act, despite wild presumptions of the plot and dilution of
the fascination, Decker & Co. carried me to the last page.
Judging by Baldacci's status on best seller lists, it's hardly likely that my
carps will have any effect on his books' popularity.
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