Saturday, August 5, 2017

Book Reviews: The Last Mile

The Last Mile 
by David Baldacci
This book is second in a series but you shouldn't let that put you off from reading it first. I picked it up on sale. I was happy that I did. I didn't feel as if there was anything I missed by not reading the previous story. The Last Mile was a stand alone book. There was just enough description and back story given to get the reader up to speed. The book is also atypical in that the protagonist is a severely out of shape middle aged man. He's trying to get back into a fit condition but it's a challenge. If this book is ever made into a film Hollywood shouldn't cast the normal type of leading man as the protagonist. The Last Mile is a little more than 400 pages but it rarely dragged. Baldacci pulls the reader in with meaningful action and brain teasers. Some of the characters are a little bit more strongly drawn than the others, but the villains are delicious.

Amos Decker is a genius bruiser. A former college football star at Ohio State, Decker made to the NFL for all of one game before he was hit so hard that he was knocked out of the league. Decker's concussion left him with some mild brain damage which fortunately for Decker was expressed in increased abilities in both deductive and inductive reasoning, an inability to ever forget anything down to the smallest detail (hyperthymesia), and the tendency to think in colors (synesthesia) when faced with certain emotional stimuli. All of these things made Decker a perfect fit for post NFL jobs as a police detective and later private detective. Decker's family has been murdered. It's not easy for him to make new friends although I think that Decker was blunt, socially inept and generally tactless even before his tragedy.  Being able to remember ever detail of the the slaughter of his loved ones is something Decker would rather do without. As some people seek solace in alcohol or drugs, Decker patches his emotional wounds with food, the starchier and sweeter the better. He's not initially pleased when he's forced to go on a diet or start to exercise. And because Decker was already not the nicest person to be around, a truly grumpy Decker can occasionally be insufferable.

Decker has joined a special FBI task force that is tasked both to pursue cold cases and make sure that questionable cases are properly adjudicated. Well the latter is not really in the task force's jurisdiction but Decker makes it so when he by chance hears about the strange case of Melvin Mars. Melvin Mars is a biracial black man (white father, black mother) of about Decker's age. Decker played against Mars many years ago. Mars was also a former college football star, though a much greater one than Decker. A standout running back at the University of Texas, Mars was destined for great things in the NFL. I say was because before the NFL draft took place that year, Mars' parents were both found murdered.There was only the barest of circumstantial evidence against Mars.

His whereabouts were murky. Some witnesses rejected his timeline. But the State of Texas didn't care about proving its case beyond a reasonable doubt against a black male defendant. And neither did the jury. Before you could say Jackie Robinson Mars was convicted of first degree murder and sent to Death Row where for two decades he's dealt with bullying vicious racist guards and white supremacist prisoners with nothing to lose. On the very night Mars is to walk to his execution (thus the book title) someone else in a different state confesses to the crime, providing only details that the killer would know. Reluctantly, the State of Texas halts the execution and even releases Mars, though both the prison guards and prosecutors are determined to see Mars suffer. They're not picky about whether they do this legally or not.

Decker hears about the case and is intrigued enough to push his team into getting involved. Even though he's low man on the totem pole Decker is relentless is going after what he thinks is the right thing to do. At first Decker and group just want to prove that Mars didn't do it but soon they are trying to track down the real killers. There are secrets in Mars' past that might put the team onto the right track. And the team goes down a rabbit hole of conspiracies, long hidden secrets and very powerful bad guys who don't like people asking questions. Decker and Mars are pretty strongly written and characterized, as are their opponents. But the people on Decker's team mostly fade into the background. They are just there to keep Mars out of prison, give Decker the support he needs, be the damsel in distress, make a few snide fat jokes before they come to respect Decker, or marvel at Decker's detective abilities. You'll do the last as well of course. Decker sees a lot and forgets nothing. 

If you are a thinking man or woman who enjoys mysteries and detective stories then this will be a story you'll like. There's not a lot of violence. What violence there is, isn't lurid. What makes the book work are the clues and tells which Decker observes. Decker doesn't immediately know who his adversaries are. It's as if Decker is playing chess blindfolded in the dark against multiple people. The book opens with Mars, who has kept in shape while in prison as an act of will and defiance, making peace with what he thinks will be his impending death. Intense.
blog comments powered by Disqus