January 11, 2019
Lee Child seems to have written this somewhat on autopilot. On the positive side, there's enough thrilling moments while Jack Reacher does what he does best, i.e., take the villains apart, that it's an enjoyable read. On the other, it's best not to look very closely or think about what you're reading, because it's pretty flimsy.
The novel kicks off with Reacher's decision, while on a walking trip to San Diego from Maine, to detour to Laconia, New Hampshire, the place where his father was born, but to which he never returned, to find out a little about his family history. Some of the novel involves Reacher's research into his family history, which never goes very far or is very interesting.
In the course of his stay in Laconia, he crosses a local New England kingpin by beating up his son, who has been molesting a vulnerable woman. The kingpin ends ups sending in some thugs from Boston, but, after Reacher, in a set 'em up, knock 'em down setpiece, deals with three of them, that thread ends, the thugs go away for no particular reason.
A second thread spins off of the genealogical research when Reacher roughs up the son of a local landowner while investigating the remains of his father's birthplace. This provides a few more set piece encounters in which Reacher sets 'em up and knocks them down. End of story there.
Finally, an entirely separate thread of the story involves a quartet of young guys, obnoxious, self involved masters of the universe types, who are rendered more or less indistinguishably from one another by Child. They run a motel, the purpose of which is to harvest victims to be hunted by guests who pay $100,000 per person for the privilege. A great deal of the novel follows the latest two victims, a young Canadian potato farmer and his girlfriend, as they fall into the trap. They are more or less inadvertently rescued by Reacher, who stumbles into the set up just as he is needed the most and he again work through a number of set 'em up, knock 'em down encounters in which he kills all the hunters as well as the remaining masters of the universe.
The Reacher character is of course what makes the series popular. He's a guy built like a refrigerator who can take apart anyone who comes at him. He has a code and anyone crossing the line gets the treatment. There's a certain grim humor which Child builds into Reacher's thoughts and encounters, but it's highly repetitive and predictable. In the Reacher universe there are a lot of dumb people with wealth and power who need a good knock to teach them manners. It's the sort of humor which allows the reader to feel morally superior to the folks who get the business end of the Reacher treatment, but it's so predictable it's like watching an automatic bowling lane pin machine set 'em up.
The story lines, too, are telegraphed well in advance. Child really missed a chance in not developing a few sinister skeletons in the family vault - that just peters out into disinterest. There's little suspense, even in regard to the motel situation. It's clear from the beginning that Child is making the two victims too likeable to end up dead, the only question is how he'll engineer their escape, which, as it turns out is by way of dumping Jack Reacher into the hunt exactly when he is needed. This is lazy plotting and writing.
The characterization of most of the people in the novel is also quite wooden and lifeless. No one is given a particularly individual persona, they all tend to talk and act just alike. Child simply cannot write believable dialogue. It is contrived and lifeless. Reacher is rendered almost as though he is autistic.
The novel also has numbers of places where it feels as though Child abruptly terminated a story line. For instance, he spends time detailing the threat to a local D.A. from the out of town thugs hired the regional kingpin to deal with Reacher. The D.A. apparently resembles Reacher's description somewhat and abruptly disappears with his girlfriend as the thugs hit town. Have the thugs kidnapped and or killed the D.A. and his girlfriend? A good deal of time is spent on this only to find out, in the last few pages of the novel, that he and his girlfriend have taken off to camp among the remains of Reacher's father's house without telling anyone what they were up to. It is, to say the least, not at all credible that two people, both of them in responsible positions, and both rather uptight in their way, would just walk out of their jobs without a word to anyone, but that's how Child winds it up. They're ok folks! And by the way, the thugs, after some of them get the Reacher treatment, retreat to Boston, never to be heard of again.
And of course, at the end of the novel Reacher resumes his trip to San Diego, leaving behind him a burnt out motel complex and ten corpses, some hacked with arrows, others riddled with gunshot, and others yet burnt to cinders. Would this not be a national sensation, the subject of internet speculation and law enforcement concern, generating a media feeding frenza? Would Reacher, the killer of at least seven of those people not be a person of interest to local and national law enforcement? Of course! But who cares? End of story.
Two stars for popcorn munching violence and mayhem - but otherwise, pretty much empty calories.