I had a touch of flu recently and went, after a long absence, to Jack Reacher for sustenance. I meant to read only one–the latest–of Lee Child’s classic thriller character’s stories, but I got the Reacher virus in addition to the flu and ended up reading three. I think I’m over it now, but the flu is kind of hanging around, and I might have a relapse. Stay tuned.
The thing is, if you read the latest–Never Go Back–-you find yourself in the last installment of a story that began in the previous book. And if you read the previous–A Wanted Man–-you find yourself in an installment of a story that began in a still-previous book. Only after reading 61 Hours do you know that you’ve completed a trilogy. You can go backwards as I did, or you can start with 61 Hours. Your choice. Either way, you won’t be able to stop till you’ve read all three. And, if you’re like me, you’ll judge the last (Never Go Back) to be the best.
In case you’re not familiar with Jack Reacher, you should know that he’s one of the unique characters in noir/thriller literature. Six-five and of massive physique, he had a long career in the army as an MP before his discharge. Since then, he wanders the country, hitchhiking everywhere, eschewing both possessions and stability. His size and background and personality lead to his involvement in mysterious and dangerous situations as he goes.
That part’s special. But what makes it all work for me is Child’s gift for sardonic dialogue. It owes a lot to Raymond Chandler, except it’s elevated and adapted for the special circumstances of his characters and style. This tidbit, for example, In the middle of a nasty confrontation/conversation:
Reacher said, “You ever bought an electrical appliance?”
“What’s that got to do with anything?”
“I saw one once, in a store. It had a yellow label on the back. It said if you messed with it you ran the risk of death or serious injury.”
“Pretend I’ve got the same kind of label.”
And, of course, Reacher can and does back it up. Not that he’s infallible or invincible. Not much of a story there if he were, but he gets the job done.
The story itself involves a journey that begins in South Dakota and ends in Virginia just across the Potomac from D.C. Because of a phone call he makes in South Dakota, he believes it will be worth the hitchhike to Virginia in pursuit of romance. The trip, it turns out, is–well, I won’t spoil it. Just know You’ll be totally pulled into every inch of the thousand-plus mile journey. You will be able to put a Reacher novel down. But not for long. They’re a great threat to your sleep and your to-do list. But believe me, they’re worth the guilt and the backlog.