There are a handful of suspense writers whom readers can count on to deliver satisfying genre thrills in book after book: Lee Child, John Sanford, Michael Connolly, and David Baldacci chief among them. What sets Baldacci apart is his ability to create not one or two enduring series characters, but many. His latest novel, The Fix, features the third appearance of quirky protagonist Amos Decker, whom Baldacci first introduced in the 2015 bestseller Memory Man. Like John Puller, Will Robie, and several other Baldacci creations before him, Decker exhibits many of the character traits that tend to delight series readers.
While his great height and gruff manner may echo Child’s Jack Reacher (ignoring the lightweight Tom Cruise version), Decker’s odd abilities border on the superhuman. Thanks to the unconventional side effect of a concussion sustained during his short NFL career, Decker cannot forget any event. “Everything he had ever experienced in life was as freshly minted in his brain as the moment it was created,” Baldacci reminds readers a few chapters in. Such recall after a head trauma has been documented in real (if rare) cases, but Decker’s condition also causes him to experience a very specific form of synesthesia: he sees certain moods and subjects as waves of emanating color. In that he occupies the world of a suspense novel, he gets to see a lot of the “electric blue” of death.
Beyond his hero’s size and swagger, plus skills derived from an unusual medical condition, Decker succeeds as a compelling protagonist because of one specific memory he cannot forget: the murders of his wife, daughter, and brother-in-law. Although he solved those murders in the second book of the series, they have continued to haunt him through the two subsequent books, guiding his actions as an investigator working—at least temporarily—for a special FBI unit.
Decker’s teammates possess personality quirks and tragedies of their own, a band of likable misfits who pursue criminal adversaries. In The Fix, that pursuit begins as Decker is walking on a D.C. sidewalk. He’s en route to an FBI meeting when he sees a well-dressed businessman calmly walk up behind a woman, shoot her in the back of the head, and then turn the gun on himself.
Because the murder happens on the FBI’s doorstep, Decker’s team is assigned the task of solving it—not the who, of which there can be no doubt, but the why. The victim is a substitute schoolteacher who volunteered in a local hospice. The murderer is head of a successful firm that consults for the FBI. There are no apparent connections between the two, but this is a Baldacci book, and many characters are not who they appear to be.
Part of what makes the sorting of clues and escalating danger enjoyable in The Fix is Baldacci’s command of crisp dialogue, falling somewhere between the late Elmore Leonard and Sgt. Joe Friday. The other pleasing element is Baldacci’s breezy descriptive style, informal and full of clever sentence fragments. Here, for example, Decker wakes up and realizes that he is in his new D.C. apartment, in a building purchased by a character from the previous book: “They were his new digs. Big place, not a cardboard box. But with tenants. And maybe a pissed-off drug dealer lurking.”
Amos Decker seems custom-made to bring readers along for what may prove a lengthy—if delightfully bumpy—ride.
Michael Ray Taylor teaches journalism at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas. He is the author of several books of nonfiction and coauthor of a textbook, Creating Comics as Journalism, Memoir and Nonfiction.