T. S. Nichols’ The Memory Detective takes place in a near future or alternate world where life and technology are pretty much the same with one difference–the memories of people who have died can be transferred in a medical procedure to family, loved ones, or if they have been murdered and the family agrees, to homicide detectives who can use those memories to solve their murder. Cole, the Memory Detective, is unique, though, in being able to absorb the memories of multiple victims. Not only do they not drive him insane, he has become addicted to memories.
Meanwhile, there is Fergus, a Mephistopheles traveling the world making and fulfilling Faustian bargains. Imagine him coming to you in your twenties and offering endless wealth and freedom for ten years to live the richest, most glorious life you can. After ten years, you will die and your memories will be sold to wealthy people to enrich their lives. Would you take that deal?
The story begins with Cole getting the memories of a Jane Doe. In investigating her murder, he gathers some incidental information that becomes useful when he begins investigating another mysterious death, one that links to mysterious unidentified bodies around the world.
The Memory Detective is an inventive and clever idea and the problems and possibilities of such a technology are ably explored. The Faustian contracts are within the realm of possibility. I can imagine people making that deal when they are young and feel immortal. Wealth and opportunity can be tempting to a few people, though I think most folks would choose a less-privileged and longer life because they want love, friends, and family more than wealth and privilege. Of course, we don’t see many people choosing love in this book, even Cole, the detective, cannot imagine choosing love over his work.
I think this was an imaginative story, but it was marred by making the villains such omnipotent super-villains. There is a comic-book quality to the villains that undercuts the credibility of the overall story. Cole is interesting, the dilemma of losing oneself in others’ memories is compelling. It is also fascinating how memories are used to solve murders. Contrary to what one might expect, they are not instant solutions. They must be analyzed for clues and used to see real, physical evidence that can be used in court. They are incomplete and sometimes frustratingly incomplete.
In the end, I think the idea that animates The Memory Detective is effective, intriguing, and a great conceit, but its execution is marred by a comic-book villain.
I received an e-galley of The Memory Detective from the publisher through NetGalley.