1 1/2 stars. What is extremely impressive about this book is how David Baldacci has managed to convince thousands of readers that this kind of shit is1 1/2 stars. What is extremely impressive about this book is how David Baldacci has managed to convince thousands of readers that this kind of shit is not only good, but something shiny and new.
First of all, Amos Decker is a *gasp* "memory man", meaning that an injury gave him the ability to never forget ANYTHING! You got that, right? He remembers everything he has experienced. Literally everything. Isn't that completely unique and never heard of before? So weird how no mystery/crime author has thought to do this!
Okay, I'll stop.
But the big selling point of this novel is a character who forgets nothing and, let's be honest, this is pretty common in the genre. Sherlock Holmes, one of the most famous fictional detectives of all time, has a photographic memory (slightly different from Decker's hyperthymesia, but mostly the same). The fact that this is pretty much the extent of Decker's characterization and it is somehow supposed to be shocking - well, that kind of fell flat instantly.
There are many things in this book that I suspect we are supposed to exclaim dramatically at and be impressed by, but we've either seen them before or they're flimsy at best. For example, Decker is supposed to be the absolute best at his job because of his memory, and yet rather than being wowed by him, I got the impression that everyone else in the book was dumbed down to make him look better. He would make a fairly obvious deduction and all the other agents' mouths would gape open in awe. Seriously, I could have told them that.
Backstory goes like this: Decker left the police after discovering his wife, daughter, and brother-in-law murdered in his home. The murderer was never caught. But he now finds himself pulled back into an investigation of a school shooting, because he is just so damn good that they need him on the case. Nobody else can figure this out. What's more, a guy called Sebastian Leopold confesses to his family's murder and gets taken in - but some things just don't add up.
The story is full of plot holes - the detectives ignore key pieces of evidence to prolong the mystery, instead looking into other dead ends. They mostly do nothing, anyway, and just stare googly-eyed at Decker, waiting for his instruction. As a reader of fairly average intelligence, I definitely don't like to feel I could conduct a murder investigation better than trained detectives. I did here.
Also, the "motive" did not make any sense to me. I do not think the reasons given in this book added up to the sum of the crimes at all. It seemed like Baldacci had a random idea for a crime and a random idea for a "reveal" and simply stuck the two together, even though they didn't fit. The answers to the mystery are kind of ludicrous, throwing more mess into an already convoluted plot.
I'd even go so far as to say the conclusions add some disturbing implications, and I don't mean in a good way. (view spoiler)[The use of a crazy murderous genderqueer character leaves a bad taste. Perhaps it would not have been quite so bad if LGBTQIA persons had received some other kind of representation in the novel. As it was, however, it had the same effect as a black murderer in an otherwise white novel would have - i.e. not a good one. (hide spoiler)]
The rating gets rounded up only because Baldacci knows how to keep you interested and turning the pages. His writing has a certain easy-to-digest charm that makes me think I should try his other books. This one, though, was clearly not a good place to start.
When the email came through from the publisher about this book, it said "for fans of domestic thrillers" and I was like: is that me? That's me, isn'tWhen the email came through from the publisher about this book, it said "for fans of domestic thrillers" and I was like: is that me? That's me, isn't it?! I must read it.
I won't mention the book that this is obviously being compared to (two words, rhymes with John Swirl) or the bestseller from last year that it's also being compared to (five words, rhymes with The Twirl in the Rain), but these books are like crack for us unromantic people. They're like the opposite of romance books. Instead of two angsty people figuring out that they're perfect for one another, you have two blissfully married people being torn apart by secrets, lies and murder! Yeah! Muahaha. My bf sleeps with one eye open.
But, problem is, this one just isn't that good. Sure, it follows the same pattern: this guy dies, leaving his wife and kids behind, and it turns out that maybe their perfect marriage was not quite so perfect. The clues are a little glaring, though. Even without my issues with the writing, my lack of empathy for Fran and that one twist which is so ridiculous I can't even - yeah, even without all that, it's just a little obvious and dull.
Firstly, Fran Hall is no Amy Dunne Flamy Sun. She will probably be remembered by very few people. She has no personality. From the opening of the book when she discovers Nathan's body, she is "the victim's wife" and she never really becomes anything more than that.
Second - still on Fran - it's absolutely amazing that she never asked any questions until now. Suddenly it turns out that she knew literally nothing about her husband, where he was most of the time, what he was doing, and that only starts ringing a "this is weird" bell when she discovers his dead body. The flashbacks to their relationship don't really paint any chemistry between them either, and caring about the story depends on your investment in their relationship, on him being “the loving husband”, but I never got that.
Also, as I mentioned above, I had some problems with the writing. The narrative is very choppy, moving quickly backward and forward between the past and present. It wasn't smoothly incorporated and the author's habit of leaving you on a cliffhanger and returning to the past/present actually killed the tension she had built - by the time I got back to the good stuff, I didn't care anymore.
And not every noun needs an adjective. Just sayin'.
So yeah, I'm all for these domestic thrillers - they have all the nastiness of a good ol' thriller and they're creepily close to home - but this one isn't a new favourite. That's before we even get to the thing that happens which is completely absurd. REAL SPOILER ALERT:(view spoiler)[how the hell did she not know the guy she was shagging wasn’t her husband? (hide spoiler)]