I don’t read as much historical crime fiction as I used to which is a shame. There’s nothing like being transported to another time and place with a dash of murder in it. It’s also nice to read something completely different occasionally and Mister Memory by Marcus Sedgwick is certainly a cut above the usual crime novel.
We’re in fin-de-siecle Paris where Marcel Després shoots dead his wife, Ondine after catching her in a compromising situation with her lover. Sent to an institution, Asile de Salpêtrière, his doctor Morel discovers that Després has a memory that forgets nothing. Along with Inspector Petit from the Sûreté who is assigned to the case, they delve into Després’s life and history to assemble the portrait of a remarkable man.
There’s a wealth of fascinating historical detail in Mister Memory. Asile de Salpêtrière was a famous Parisian institution where women diagnosed with hysteria were placed by the unscrupulous and ignorant. Predominantly, therefore, a female institution which has opened up to men, Després is portrayed as an innocent amongst the criminal and insane. It’s tempting to try to put a modern diagnosis on his condition. A memory that never forgets anything, an inability to recognise faces and an essential innocence suggests a form of autism. The book though is as much as the men around the case as Després. We’re treated to sumptuous descriptions of Paris and the minutiae of a fascinating investigation.
Mister Memory is a beautifully written tale of the limitless of memory and the boundaries placed on love.