July 20, 2017
The Memory Agent, by Matthew BJ Delaney
Crime never changes. Punishment does. In a time when prisons no longer contain inmates behind concrete and steel, the convicted serve their time while asleep, rehabilitating in virtual reality while blissfully unaware of their crimes. Roger Parker is a professional prison breaker, skilled at navigating these strange penal dream worlds and extracting those imprisoned there—for a price. Parker wants out of the game, but a powerful senator, desperate to save his son, convinces Parker to pull one last job. The clincher? An opportunity for Parker to find his wife, herself interned, lost somewhere in a treacherous, time-shifting Manhattan cyberspace. As Parker and his team make their hallucinatory journey between worlds, memory and motive lose coherence and integrity, and the clock begins to run out: internal security detects the breaker, and sets out to remove him—permanently. Unable to rely on his perceptions, unsure of the truth or even his very identity, will Parker break out…or be broken?
The premise and ultimate reveal of The Memory Agent is nothing new. I saw it on Netgalley, and decided to give it a whirl. Inception, The Adjustment Bureau, and The Matrix come to mind as the protagonist slowly unravels the mystery of who he is and what his world is all about. The chapter structure of this book was crazypants, with the first chapter consisting of the first third of the book. That chapter has this surreal horror-chic that was a turn-off for me. I gritted my teeth, and slogged through that first chapter, and was glad that I did.
It was obvious that a lot of thought and planning went into the narrative structure of this story. Each clue, in retrospect, telegraphed the direction of the story and hinted at events to come. The author had to be quite ambitious to envision and create the world(s) that Roger Parker and his team inhabit.
The Memory Agent blends several genres, including horror, science fiction, historical fiction, and mystery. Fans of any of those genres could easily get into it and be satisfied when they finished reading. Although the story is immensely complex, sometimes requiring minor re-reads, everything is ultimately understood by the end of the book. The ending is woefully predictable, but that doesn’t detract from this four-star read.
Matthew B.J. Delaney published his first novel, Jinn, in 2003. Winner of the International Horror Guild Award, the novel was optioned for film by Touchstone Pictures, was featured as People magazine’s Page-Turner of the Week, and received a Publishers Weekly Starred Review. Delaney received a bachelor’s degree in economics from Dartmouth College and a master’s in public administration from Harvard. Following the attacks of September 11, 2001, he left a career in finance and moved from Boston to New York City to join the New York City Police Department. He has been a member of the NYPD for twelve years and has been assigned to precincts throughout Manhattan and the Bronx as well as within police headquarters and the Intelligence Division. He is currently a decorated Special Operations Lieutenant serving in a Brooklyn violent crime suppression unit. He continues to write in his spare time.