Top critical review
Child has never been good at ballistics
September 12, 2014
I am a Reacher fan. Every book from "Killing Floor" to "Worth Dying For" is on our bookshelf. I have read them all two or three times. The last few, though, only on Kindle, and after reading "Personal" it's time to call a halt. Lee Child hasn't written a decent book since he committed the dreadful faux pas of casting the pipsqueak Tom Cruise as the 6 foot 5 inch 250 pound Reacher in the movie version of "One Shot". Maybe he is suffering from terminal embarrassment.
The premise for this latest effort is only finally revealed on the last few pages, and you can't help but groan "Oooooh come on! Reeeeeeally?" While most Reacher books, and indeed most thrillers, require a leap of faith somewhere, this is just awful. For a start, the two - sniper scenario is lifted straight from Ian Fleming's very first James Bond book "Casino Royale".
Then there're the guns. Child has never been good at ballistics, but how hard would it be for him to do some fact checking? This is after all, a book about snipers. We are repeatedly told that a 50 cal. BMG bullet will take 3 seconds to travel 1,400 yards. But it doesn't. Bullet velocity is usually referred to in feet per second. For a bullet to take three seconds to travel 1,400 yards, it would have to average 1,400 feet per second for the whole distance. The trouble is that with a normal load, from a rifle such as Child describes, a ballistically efficient bullet would leave the muzzle at around 2,800 feet per second, and still be doing over 1,700 feet per second at 1,400 yards. That's an average of over 2,200 feet per second, and means the bullet would take just under two seconds to arrive. Splitting hairs? Not when Child goes into such repeated detail as central to the plot.
Still on guns, he writes in detail about testing various calibres on bullet proof glass. Among the cartridges he says were tested is the 7.62 mm NATO. He then goes on to say that the .308 Winchester specifically wasn't tested. They are for all intents the same cartridge; one is military, and the other is the commercial version. Can't he run this by someone before he goes into print?
Even more. In the climactic fight scene, Reacher and two sidekicks are confronted with an unarmed 6'11" man mountain "bigger than a gorilla". They are all carrying 9mm pistols, but are afraid to shoot him, not because they might miss, but because they think the bullets would go clean through him and kill some poor neighbour in their London suburban home. Damn! Looks like Reacher will just have to fight him hand to hand. Look, these are 9mm slugs shot at pretty low velocity, not some cannon. After penetrating that much flesh and bone, they're going nowhere. Just shoot him!
Then there's the mind numbing scene in the giant's house, where Reacher loses his perspective. It's just too awful. Regretfully, the only way I'll read a new Reacher now is if I know in advance that Reacher dies. It really is time for Child to kill him off. Until then, if I need a Reacher fix, I'll have to content myself with re-reading the old ones again.