Better Off Dead is the 26th action-and-adventure novel featuring Jack Reacher and written by Lee Child. Or rather, it is written by Lee and his younger brother Andrew Grant, who here takes the pen name of Andrew Child. This is their second collaboration, and the plan is for Andrew to take over writing the series going forward.
The story is set in an Arizona border town and finds Reacher helping a woman track down her brother, who may (or may not) be a conspirator in an upcoming mass casualty event. It has all the features we’ve come to expect in a Jack Reacher story: truly evil bad guys, high stakes, well-written fight scenes, and an ending that has Reacher on the road … again.
I have read all 26 novels in this series, and most of the Reacher short stories and novellas. In other words, I’m enough of a fan to put out a fair share of money to read what Lee Child writes. Andrew—who first collaborated with Lee on novel 25, The Sentinel—is a good writer, too. I have no complaints about writing quality.
To be honest, though, the Reacher formula is getting old. Basically: Reacher comes to town by chance, stumbles into a massive conspiracy, at great danger to himself and others battles the bad guys, wins, and walks away … only to come to the next town by chance, stumble into a massive conspiracy and—well, you get the picture. It worked for a long time. For me, it’s not working anymore.
It’s not just the formula, either. According to his official bio, Reacher was born on October 29, 1960. He graduated West Point in 1983; was injured at the U.S. Marines Barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, in 1983; was promoted to major, then demoted, but finally mustered out of the Army in 1997. From that point on, with one brief exception, he has been, for lack of a better term, homeless.
It’s one thing for a guy in his late 30s to perform at peak strength. It’s another thing entirely for a 61-year-old homeless man to continue to have the kind of mental acuity and physical strength that Reacher consistently displays, especially when you start cataloging all the beatings he’s taken over the years. I suppose it’s possible, but it really strains credibility. So while I have enjoyed the Reacher series for years, the Child brothers are pushing my willing suspension of disbelief to the breaking point.
As a longtime fan, I’m glad Reacher survives to beat the bad guy in this story. As a reader, though, when he takes off at the end of the novel, I closed the book, wished him well, and decided I don’t care what he does—or rather, what the Child brothers have him do—next.
Lee Child and Andrew Child, Better Off Dead (New York: Delacorte Press, 2021).
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