Tuesday, October 26, 2010

"Memory" by Donald Westlake

Hard Case Crime, 2010
Glen Orbik’s wonderful cover tells all you need to know about the beginnings of the nightmarish journey documented in Memory.  Actor, and erstwhile seducer of married women, Paul Cole, awakens in the hospital after his collision with the chair.  He is disoriented and confused, with a highly dysfunctional memory.  From the moment of that awakening, the reader is placed into the Cole’s shoes, sharing his thoughts, fears and general consternation with the nearly unnavigable world in which he finds himself.  Herein lies the principal brilliance of Westlake’s work in Memory.  We are not simply told what happens to Cole, we co-live it with him.   

The story follows a relatively simple arc in which Cole’s day-to-day travails are documented.  A nasty police detective forces him to leave the town in which he is injured.  Surely, there is a clandestine motivation behind the detective’s actions - what was it?  Later, in a new town, he is picked up by the police and treated to a terrifying interrogation.  Once again, surely something big, but hidden, is afoot- what has Cole done?  

Every effort Cole makes to re-connect with his old life and reclaim his memory ends in tragedy.  He simply can’t understand what motivates the people around him and causes them to react to him so strangely and with such hostility.  Surely, at some point, Cole will finally find the key that will unlock the mysteries surrounding his situation and allow him to fully understand the links in the chain of his misfortune.  

For the reader, the feeling that a big event looms on the horizon grows.  The novel must be about more than Cole’s simple and depressing daily struggle with his condition.  Some kind of a catastrophe will reveal the source of Cole’s nightmares.  Something will either restore Cole’s memory or definitively end his small lingering ability to retain an identity.  Is the big event pages away or is the reader now thinking like Cole?  

Although I have a copy of the print edition of Memory in my Hard Case Crime collection, I was very fortunate to find an audiobook copy at my local library.  The BBC Audiobooks America edition is read by Stephen R. Thorne in an amazing performance.  Thorne’s voicing and characterization of Cole is masterful, and his work with some of the other players is amusing and engaging.  Difficult to say whether my reaction to the print edition would have been different, but I was completely enthralled by Memory. Paul Cole will not leave my memory anytime soon.  This is one of the heaviest works in the Hard Case canon. 
There are also excellent  BBC Audiobooks America versions of Parker novels read by Thorne.


  1. Mr. Orbik's covers always clinch the deal for me as I'm browsing the book stores.

    I have the book on my shelf to read.

  2. Memory is just as enthralling in its print form, but you've given me a reason to pick up the audiobook now and see if the story stands up to a second go-round.

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