Thursday, May 5, 2011

61 Hours by Lee Child - Book Review

61 Hours is the fourteenth in Lee Child's enormously successful Jack Reacher series of action/suspense novels.  Reacher is an unusual character who, after a successful career in military intelligence has decided to live off the grid. He travels from place to place without credit cards, driver's license, visible means of support, friends, or an ordinary support group.  He arrives just as a major crisis of some sort is erupting in a town or to a person and using a combination of brains, skill, and charm manages to almost single-handedly crack the case, often creating death and destruction in his wake.  He is a world champion rifle shot, a master of martial arts, and an imposing physical specimen whose prowess apparently creates openings for him to be able to help the helpless and defeat evil where he finds it. The novels have strong narrative drive, capturing the reader and leading towards the often surprising conclusion.  Reacher, while remaining remarkably mysterious, is given sufficient back story to be able to call on people from his past for help when he needs it.  The major mystery to me, as a reader, is to fathom how he overcomes the suspicions and guardedness of those he seeks to help while maintaining his distance and never forming attachments.

Lee Child, is the pen name for Jim Grant, an Englishman who lives and writes in New York with his wife, Jane, an American. Child had a successful career as a television writer and has been even more successful writing the Reacher series. As visiting professor at Sheffield University in England, he has funded 52 Reacher scholarships.  Child's novels contain a strong visual element and all have been optioned for future filming. 

Lee Child

In 61 Hours Reacher, written in third person (this is important because the novels are sometimes in third and sometimes in first person), Reacher finds himself on a tour bus he has bribed the driver into giving him a ride on. He is accompanied by twenty or so tourists on the way to their next stop, Mt. Rushmore. It's the depth of winter, the temperatures are well below zero, and a light snow is falling. In a brief moment of inattention the driver is forced into a slight swerve while crossing a bridge, throwing the bus into a slide from which he skillfully recovers, but still finds himself slightly off the road without being able to return to the road or restart the motor. As the situation worsens, Reacher's human and physical skills begin to assert themselves as he helps care for injured passengers and seek rescue.

The use of third person in this novel permits Child to change points of view as the story develops. He can take the reader to Columbia, where a diminutive drug lord named Plato oversees a vast empire, part of which is centered in Bolton, South Dakota. After Reacher arrives in Bolton, he wins the confidence of the local police, an endangered witness to a drug deal, and others, who, for some reason, tend to take this stranger into their confidence. Reacher's logic and ability seem to overcome the reticence of the locals. But, since there's an assassin who never misses in the neighborhood, he must overcome a good deal of suspicion.  Meanwhile the countdown of hours remaining until the inevitable climax continues as we visit a compound of biker/meth dealers built around a mysterious government silo as well as a nearby maximum security federal prison nearby which has revitalized the economy and increased the total dependence of its population on the government installation. Reacher must discover how the town, the prison, and the compound are inter-related while seeking to protect elderly Janet Salter, the witness.

Child manages dialogue to tell his story very well. He offers a minimum of descriptive material, just enough to establish location and to depict the effects of extreme cold on people's ability to function physically and intellectually. It's easy to see why Child's books have been optioned for films. To date, none have been made, but Child's web site says that one is in the works.

The Jack Reacher series is worth some time and takes little effort. The web site says the books have been written to eliminate the need to read them in order, but suggests they be read in the order of publication, not in chronological order. This is the first Jack Reacher novel I've read in a couple of years, because I found reading them successively became a bit much for me. Coming back after a hiatus refreshed my interest in him, and the conclusion of 61 Hours sharpened by interest in reading the next installment. If you haven't yet read a Jack Reacher novel by Lee Child, start anywhere and then decide how you want to attack the body of work. Enjoy and don't take them too seriously.