Sunday, September 8, 2013

Never Go Back by Lee Child (Jack Reacher #18) - Book Review

Never Go Back by Lee Child (Dealacorte, 2013, 416 pages, $28.00) is the eighteenth title in the Jack Reacher series of mystery thrillers featuring the mysterious Reacher, who mysteriously arrives in town when things are going wrong, steps in to save the day, and moves on to continue his lone voyage. The novels are robust, manly (whatever that means), and exciting. A drug for those addicted to this genre tracing itself back to the very mists of story writing concerned with the lone hero, not a part of society, but an observer, and, when needed, a participant in it. Since the book is, on publication, has already spent 71 days in the Amazon top 100 and is currently at number 9, a new film starring Tom Cruise based on the Jack Reacher character has just been released, and Child has embarked on a lively book tour. I'll not spend to much time discussing this particular volume, but rather try to explore Reacher himself, why he appeals to readers, and, perhaps, a little bit of speculation about Child's mode of working on this very popular character.

One of the delights of reading Reacher lies in the reader's ability to pick up any book in the series without having to have read any earlier ones. Although Never Go Back has a repeat character from 61 Hours, reaching back four novels, it has no relevance at all to the current tale except to establish a reason for Reacher's going to Washington, DC. where he has gone to meet Susan Turner, who he's only met previously by telephone. Soon after his arrival he is arrested on charges of murder and rape, as well as smacked with a paternity suit, which all supposedly occurred about fourteen years previously. Reacher, a retired army officer who had previously served as commanding officer of the Military Police unit Turner now commands, soon creates enough havoc to get himself arrested while also discovering that Turner is in jail on charges of having taken a bribe. The rest of the book involves their working together to prove their innocence and destroy the illegal operation and conspiracy which has trumped up charges to get both of them out of the way. They become involved in a cross country chase, a series of daring encounters, and working closely together while discovering an irresistible physical attraction. Revealing any more of the plot would only serve to take away from its ingenuity and surprise.

What about Lee Child's approach to the enigmatic character Jack Reacher makes these books exciting and enjoyable reads? Jack Reacher is a retired military officer, a graduate of West Point, son of an officer. He is endowed with physical and intellectual powers which make him a dangerous man to oppose as well as a fine person to have on your side. It remains something of a mystery to me why good people trust him and bad people don't, but that's pretty much the way it is. When Reacher comes to town, he always finds the trouble there and those who need his help or intervention are easily persuaded he's the man to provide it. But Reacher lives off the grid. He carries no ID, has no cell phone or credit card. He hasn't had an address for years. He sees things others don't. He responds in the moment, almost always just a step ahead of his opponents. His physical skills combine with great size and speed to make him a more than formidable character. His intelligence and penetrating logic help him to see the need and keep a perspective that helps him to choose the precise amount of physical response necessary to achieve his goal without causing more damage than necessary, yet he knows how to inflict pain when called upon to do so. He's always on the edge of violence, yet never commits more than necessary. Readers can find a Wikipedia profile of Reacher stitched together from the novels here. Men like him and women love him. What's not to admire?

Lee Child

Author Lee Child (real name: Jim Grant), according to a recent interview on MSNBC, didn't expect to be a writer. Born in England, he was twenty years into a successful career as a television producer, when he lost his job. Taking the bit in his teeth, he decided (against all reasonable odds) to write a mystery thriller. The first book won The Barry Award as best first novel in British crime fiction, placing his work on a fast track which has led to eighteen successful Reacher novels. Since then he has won another Barry as best novel for The Enemy in 2005, placing him in really fast company in the crime fiction genre. Child's narrative is very cinematic in nature. It's easy to visualize the characters and situations. At times, they almost seem as if they've been designed to convert immediately into action films, although the current Tom Cruise vehicle (Jack Reacher) is the first to reach theaters. I gather that all the Jack Reacher books have been optioned for film, meaning it could become quite a franchise, although the choice of Tom Cruise as a suitable actor to portray the character over a series which could continue for years seems questionable.

It often seems that Child creates a Reacher novel on the run. He places his character in a situations and then almost sits back and records what happens to him and what his responses are. He invents new elements to his character which contribute to the plot of the present story, whatever he needs to move the story along. Regardless, there remains an internal consistency to Jack Reacher that readers obviously enjoy. When I picked up my first Reacher book, I finished it in a day or so and right away returned to the local library to get a couple more. However, I found I easily overdosed and decided not to read through the entire series. Now, I look forward to the next volume, but have waited to get it until it reaches the remaindered shelves. However, it's fun to see where Child chooses to send Reacher and how he uses Reacher's various strengths to solve the problem at hand.

Never Go Back by Lee Child (Dealacorte, 2013, 416 pages, $28.00), the eighteenth in this series of crime thrillers, provides a diverting and enjoyable few hours in the fantasy America of Jack Reacher, a hero of near super proportions. People who like the books really like them; these books are a real or guilty pleasure. Apparently there are a lot of them, including me. I received the book as a digital download from the publisher though Edelweiss: Above the Tree Line.