Every summer I get drawn back to Lee Child’s mystery noir thrillers, starring ex-military Jack Reacher who’s currently roaming the country with nothing but a travel toothbrush and a debit card (it used to be cash wired from his Annapolis bank via Western Union, but he’s adapting to the times). Equipped with special ops fighting skills, a robust moral compass and the untetheredness that comes with having no forwarding address….sometimes he gets in trouble.
The books are always exciting, I almost never see where the twists are coming (though the writing is literary enough for some respectable foreshadowing), and Child knows how to describe a darkly lit room with two usable exits and a handful of troublesome blind spots.
Every Reacher adventure generally features a strong-willed, capable woman or two. Usually they have a fling with Jack as they unravel whoever’s doing what to whom, and it’s always mutual and respectful (and apparently dynamite since Lee Child isn’t prone to just fading out for 2-3 hours with no reason).
The two I picked up for a recent roundtrip to No.VA were a great study in contrasts. The first was in the 3rd person so we could also peek into the minds of the bad guys, the second was in the 1st….not sure which I prefer….you’ll have to look into it and get back to me.
The first one was Without Fail, set in DC, released around 2001 – Jack gets hired by his deceased brother’s ex-girlfriend to assess the Secret Service currently protecting the Vice President of the United States. He and a friend from his military days figure out all the ways they would assassinate the VP, then get brought inside the loop (or should I say the Beltway..aha aha aha) to solve a series of death threats that have been intercepted by the Secret Service.
The head of the VP’s detail is a woman, as is Reacher’s partner, and they are fierce, smart fighters without whom Reacher couldn’t have uncovered or disposed of the guys threatening the VP.
Not only does Child staff his world with realistic, exciting characters, he fills it with DC details too. Apparently before Nats Park came to Capitol South it was rough up in this piece. It’s fun when Reacher has access to unlimited funds, and can basically take a Matrix-style approach to crime solving.
It’s even better when he can’t.
Gone Tomorrow was set in New York, present day – it opened on the R train, and when I say that, I mean that not only does the first scene take place there, but I in fact pulled the cover to the left while riding from Union Square to Canal street. I jumped. I looked around to make sure I wasn’t in a Never Ending Story type situation. Reassured, I kept reading.
A woman kills herself when Reacher confronts her, thinking she’s a suicide bomber, and suddenly he’s a suspect, wait no, just a person of interest. Wait, he realizes there’s something bigger afoot here? Then he’s wanted by the NYPD AND the feds. And some Russian..wait…Ukrainian..no, wait, Afghan spies.
This one is even favorite-r because in addition to the kickass female protagonist detective, the villains are enigmatic chick killing machines too, AND Reacher has to take the subway everywhere. I did a lot of my reading on the subway, and when he timed a jump on to the tracks so he could make it to the opposite platform in 8 steps, I held my breath and counted too, imagining a tall built guy charging across the third rail to be pulled up by people taking the uptown R. It was cool.
When I finished it, I wrote "Enjoy" on the cover and left it on the bench I’d been sitting on while waiting for the 7. I stood up and casually walked down the platform, and by the time I returned to my seat a woman in her 50s was already flipping through it.
What I love the most about Reacher’s stories are the way I walk after I’ve read them. I feel like my senses are sharper, like I’m sizing up the scenario like Reacher would so that in the event I needed his help – or someone needed mine – I wouldn’t embarrass him. (Ok, leaving aside the fact that I couldn’t even watch the part of Planet Earth where the snow leopard tore the everloving hell out of the mountain goat’s haunches, I feel confident I could be useful in a crisis.) (You shut up) I love to think about where I’d go and what I’d do if I really had a ginormous bank account, contacts to freelance whenever I felt like it, and the freedom to travel the rest of the time.
Lee Child’s complete works are here. I also recommend Bad Luck and Trouble (meet some other special investigators!) and Nothing to Lose (two towns with a highway in between are Hope and Despair…come ON)