Memory is the final novel from mystery grandmaster Donald Westlake. It will be on-shelf within the next few days as a paperback original, coming from dedicated pulp specialists Hard Case Crime.
The concept of amnesia - and lost identity - is a common one through the pulps. Many of the great (and not-so-great) authors have used this method to create dramatic tension ("Is this woman a friend or an enemy?"), redefine characters ("I'm a good guy now!") and set up a shocking final reveal ("Good lord, I'M the dead man!").
Westlake's Memory transforms this basic literary device into an art form.
Paul Cole begins the book in the arms of another man's wife. Unfortunately, the man (armed with heavy furniture) takes exception to that. So by the second chapter, Paul is in the hospital with a bad concussion. Although Paul's breaks and bruises heal quickly, his memory does not. He quickly realizes - and then re-realizes and re-realizes - that his life has changed completely.
After a brief convalescence, Paul is dumped out on the streets of a seedy Midwestern town, with only a handful of doctor's bills and a morally-outraged local cop to keep him company. Paul's initial mission is simple: get back to New York City (according to his wallet, he lives there).
As the book progresses, Paul's mission becomes less simple. Day to day actions like paying rent or getting to work present major challenges to him. He can't even remember his own taste in music, much less what he got up to with his last girlfriend(s). His initial goal of getting back to New York City proves a false hope - Paul is surrounded by an "aura of hopelessness" (to quote one of his old friends). Just changing location doesn't shrug it off.
Westlake is a great writer - which makes this a dangerous book. It is impossible not to empathise - and therefore suffer alongside - Cole. From chapter to chapter, Cole's life becomes an increasingly Kafka-esque struggle, and the reader is dragged alongside him every stumbling step of the way.
This is an exceptional and painful book. It is the essence of noir without a hint of crime - one man's unceasing, provocative struggle to make good in a relentlessly grim world.
On sale from 30 March.