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Book Review: Disciple of the Dog by R. Scott Bakker

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The world of mystery thrillers has an intriguing new hero in Disciple Manning: the man who cannot forget. Cursed with eidetic memory, Disciple (or Diss, as his friends call him) has total recall, an ability he puts to good use as a private investigator, even as it wreaks havoc on his mental health and social life. In fact, as he embarks on his latest case, following the trail of a missing young girl who also happened to have joined a mysterious apocalyptic cult, he’ll rely on his freeze-frame memory heavily. Because every word spoken, every stutter, even a facial expression so fleeting as to pass unnoticed to anyone else, has the potential to be just the loose bit of string that will unravel everything.

Bakker has an interesting idea here, and he explores it to good effect, Disciple’s amazing memory being central to both plot and character development. Modern neuroscientists agree that the brain’s ability to forget is equally important to its ability to remember. Not everything needs to be vivid and fresh in our minds all the time, only what’s really important: those skills and ideas we use most frequently, those experiences that really affected us, not to mention anything new and unexpected. So the brain looks for things like repetition, emotionally-charged experiences, and novelty, when tagging memories or knowledge as more or less important.

Additionally, from a mental health perspective, bad experiences need to be let go of, to become muted over time. Grief cannot be borne forever. And if it was? Well, now you know why Disciple drinks.

It’s obvious that Bakker has done his research. He knows the background science well, and he writes like a thriller veteran, which is all the more surprising given that he’s better known for works of fantasy. With Rankin’s Inspector Rebus recently retired, it’s all to the good that thriller fans have a high quality new work to glom onto. Personally, I hope that Disciple of the Dog is only the beginning of a whole new career for Bakker, and his brainchild Disciple Manning.

About J.J.S. Boyce

  • Jason P.

    I loved Disciple Manning, hopefully Mr. Bakker will be able to provide more stories featuring this lovely freak of nature!

    BTW: Mr. Bakker never uses the phrase “eidetic memory” to describe Diss Manning’s condition. Per the text, Diss suffers from “Hyperthymestic Syndrome”.