In this sly caper, a con man with a prodigious memory gets roped into dubious plots.
Ali Reed was born with hyperthymesia, a rare condition that allows him to remember with perfect clarity every moment of his life and all information presented to him; he uses his gift to run petty scams, hang out at strip clubs and engage in meaningless affairs. (By his tabulation he had 2,141 encounters with 41 women.) But fetching bank manager Karen Colette spots his abilities and subtly reels him in, using nothing more than a fist to the throat and a knee to the groin. She’s working for psycho-killer crime-lord Bené, who threatens to kill Ali unless he helps in a scheme to defraud Hungarian counterfeiters. When that goes south, Ali and Karen, in the throes of a bickering love-hate relationship, try to deflect Bené’s wrath by holding his (already dead) cousin for ransom; meanwhile, a corrupt U.S. marshal decides to co-opt Ali’s memory into a plan to steal the Washington, D.C., police department’s ill-gotten slush fund. Newson’s rollicking narrative relies on a conceit that doesn’t bear much weight; as eager as everyone is to exploit Ali’s power of recall, the author makes little use of it except as a creaky device in the final heist. Fortunately, Ali is a vibrant anti-hero in his own right, with keen insight into the human soul and a skill at teasing out and leveraging the desires of other people. Newson surrounds him with a colorful cast of African-American strivers, including Ali’s bawdy, tough-as-nails mom, who thinks nothing of running scams on her own sons, and a rogue’s gallery of pungent low-lifes. The result feels like a cross between Walter Mosley and Elmore Leonard. It’s all a bit contrived, but Newson’s razor-sharp prose and subtle feel for character will keep readers engrossed.
An entertaining picaresque.