Intriguing Sequel

1:41 PM 28 OCTOBER 2018

This sequel to the novel “Memory Man” continues the story of quirky detective Amos Decker, following his secondment to a newly-formed FBI unit. After the trauma of the original thriller, in which the main character sought to avenge the killing of his family, a move to Washington offers the prospect of a fresh start. Albeit his experience of hyperthymesia (excessive memory/perfect recall) guarantees Decker’s tragic memories can never fade, even with time, he realizes the need to move on. Still, though his prodigious ‘gift’ continues to enable Decker to process information and formulate hypotheses, in this volume the reader gets a clearer insight into the social consequences of Decker’s acquired brain injury. Whilst his cerebral functioning is clearly an asset, Decker has paid the price of an emotional deficit, which impedes his capacity to connect with colleagues and foster attachments. This makes teamwork a challenge, both for Decker, who is partially aware that he misses social cues and for those around him, who need to create bespoke relationships if they are to orchestrate their efforts. In that sense, Decker is very much an ‘island’ and it is key characters from the first book who seek to bridge his isolation, alongside a former football star on death row, who looks set to suffer the ultimate injustice.


Special Agent Ross Bogart has staked his reputation on making a unique FBI unit deliver results, but with only one other agent in the group, the task is at times like trying to herd cats, in particular trying to marshal Decker’s maverick tendencies. In his former police career Decker had a partner, but he now struggles with close relationships. Yet, journalist Alex Jamison knows that she has been offered a spot on the team because of her affinity with Decker. He responds to her and Jamison in turn is protective and encouraging towards Decker, reaching out rather than treating him as a curiosity.


Of course, making the ‘victim’ a college football star enabled the author to continue to trade on Decker’s brief NFL status and bind the pair of ex-gladiators together. However, the FBI involvement also allows the story to encompass additional resources and a national backdrop, which lends further tension to the story. Certainly Baldacci’s intricate plot-lines are skilfully meshed to create another fast-moving book, with some cleverly crafted antagonists. Indeed, the carefully calibrated depravity of the baddies has the reader willing the knights of justice to success. Corruption, racism, poverty, the abuse of power, these well-worn distortions of the human experience are all present in this book, the dragon to be faced if not slain, in an against-the-odds confrontation. But, for me, the enjoyment of the book is as much about the further development of the protagonist, as the reader gets to see more of the submerged iceberg that is Amos Decker and Baldacci has definitely adhered the old show biz adage, ‘leave them wanting more’…

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Burning through the pages

11:09 AM 18 MARCH 2017

Andrew Taylor has made a career out of historical thrillers and his latest book is a compelling dive into post-republic Britain. Many of us perhaps recall 1666 as the year of the ‘great fire of London’, a catastrophic event in the history of the nation, often taught in classrooms alongside the impact of the plague, for which the fire is frequently regarded as a partial antidote. However, I for one, am short on detail, the impact for the city of such an event, both logistically, but also for individual citizens. In this book, Andrew Taylor draws us onto street level, as the inhabitants of the capital struggle to dampen the flames, which raged for days and threatened to cause irreparable damage. It’s an interesting and dynamic backdrop into which the author deftly inserts a tale of intrigue, murder and power-broking which sustains the returned king, amid turmoil and a nation recovering from the tensions evoked under Oliver Cromwell.

James Marwood and Catherine (‘Cat’) Lovett are the adult children of regicides – those who had been directly instrumental in the execution of the king’s father in Whitehall. Their respective families had flourished under parliamentarian rule and extremist religious views that were tolerated. However, the return of the monarchy was to confer profound changes to the fortunes of their respective fathers and emburdened the children with the associated shame and guilt. The book traces their respective interwoven journeys and struggles to survive, thereby lifting a veil on the often brutal life in London at that time, the machinations of the state, society and the fluctuating fortunes of the aristocracy, political and lower classes.

In some ways there are intriguing and tangible parallels with today. The destruction of a major city creates a flood of refugees and it is the rich and powerful best placed to survive the tumult, with most choices. Still, amid the generalized mayhem and economic disaster, with the attendant winners and losers, Taylor has developed a compelling plot, which made this reader want to know how circumstances pan out for the central characters.

Top of the bestseller list for this genre for weeks, Taylor has clearly tapped into an appetite for fast-moving action and in spite of the historical context the quality of the writing and the strength of the characters gives this book broad appeal. Worth noting there are instances of violence in the book, but handled well by the author, in my view and in keeping with the unsanitized description of a great city convulsed by time and happenstance. Well worth reading.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

It’s a case of judgement…

10:56 PM 28 JANUARY 2017

As a long time admirer of the Grisham back-catalogue,  there is always a tremor of excitement when a new title is added to the list (currently the list of novels numbers twenty nine) and more often than not the author delivers for his army of fans.’The Whistler’ carries all the traditional hallmarks of a Grisham thriller – the victims, the baddies and the agents of the justice system seeking to uphold the rule of law. The intrinsically arcane and yet equally fascinating backdrop of the US legal system has been successfully mined repeatedly by Grisham and  his tales often turn on an obscure element of the law and in this instance that pertaining to ‘whistle-blowers’. Wrap around that nugget a plot involving organized crime, a corrupt judge, the land belonging to a native American tribe, murder, extortion and a range of misdemeanors and this novel makes for a compelling read.

In this offering, Grisham does not dwell much on motivation, though the presence of greed and its corrupting influence looms large. More interesting though is the inadvertently heroic efforts of the law enforcers to see justice prevail, without the inducements anticipated by the ‘whistlers’. More grave, the disloyalty of a judge to the public she exists to serve and the abject abuse of a revered high office.

However, for me, the acid test unfolds in the epilogue. The ‘triumph’ of justice can be fickle and the apportioning of ‘just deserts’ nuanced and sometimes unsatisfying. For example, the full weight of the law being lightened by plea-bargaining, the witness protection programme, the apparent need to reward some people to ‘do the right thing’, while expecting it of others. Still, there was something very satisfying about wealthy criminals being temporarily unable to engage expensive lawyers. At that moment, at least, the playing field seemed level, perhaps in the way we’d like to imagine the law should operate.

Ultimately though, the conclusion was greeted with an indifferent  shrug, not so much a thrilling crescendo, as a damp squib really. But why? 

On reflection, I don’t think the characters were developed enough to be fully plausible, nor to make the reader ‘care’ about their respective outcomes. Yet, on balance, ‘The Whistler’ remains an enjoyable romp, but, rather like fast food, I was quickly left feeling the need for something more substantial. Then again, who am I to judge.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.