Blue Moon | Book Review


Lee Child released Blue Moon, his 24th Jack Reacher novel, on October 29, 2019—Reacher’s 59th birthday. Like most 59-year-olds, Reacher is set in his ways: a committed vagabond who stays out of people’s way unless they cross his path, helping those who need it, hurting those who deserve it. And like Reacher himself, Lee Child’s writing is set in its way too. Readers know exactly what they’re going to get when they turn the first page.

Remarkably, the formula still works well. Reacher finds himself on a bus observing a young punk trying to figure out how to lift the large amount of cash an old man obviously holds in his coat pocket. The old man gets off the bus, the young man follows him, and Reacher follows the young man, just to make sure no harm comes to the old one. No good deed goes unpunished, however, and Reacher ends up helping the old man and his wife, who find themselves caught in an escalating war between violent Albanian and Ukrainian gangs. Throw in a plucky “petite and gamine” waitress with a backstory who wants to try something new every day, and Blue Moon unfolds inexorably toward its dénouement: the good guys win, the bad guys lose, and Reacher walks away.

My number-one criteria for suspense novels is that they keep me turning pages. Blue Moon does that. That page-turner quality has to be balanced against the reader’s willing suspension of disbelief, which all novels force us to occupy. My main beef with the past few Reacher novels is that the page-turner quality was starting to lose out to the suspension-of-disbelief quality. Blue Moon did better, in this regard, than its immediate predecessors.

Still, when I turned the last page, I started wondering: Why would a pretty thirtysomething waitress find a nearly 60-year-old homeless man attractive? Can a man who’s been on the road for 22 years—Reacher retired from the Army in 1997—stay at the top of his physical and mental game, as this story shows him to be? And can a guy who’s killed as many bad guys as Reacher really evade law enforcement as long as he has?

I suppose the balance between page-turning and believability has shifted for me over the last few novels, which would explain why I didn’t pick this book up the day it was published. Lee Child probably has a few Reacher novels left in him. And while I enjoyed this novel a little more than its past few predecessors, my interest in Reacher is flagging. I’ll give the 25th novel a read in honor of Reacher’s 60th birthday, but then I think I’ll be done. Reacher should be done by then too.

Book Reviewed
Lee Child, Blue Moon: A Jack Reacher Novel (New York: Delacorte Press, 2019).

P.S. If you liked my review, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

Past Tense | Book Review


Midnight Line, Lee Child’s previous Jack Reacher novel, was a page-turner, but it left me wondering whether Reacher was getting a bit old for all the action Child put him through. I gave it a four-star review, but to be honest, I promised myself I would give Child only one more chance to keep my interest in Reacher. Past Tense kept my interest.

The novel has three storylines. One, Reacher finds himself in Laconia, New Hampshire, where his dad was born and raised. The only problem? There’s little trace of Stan Reacher there. Two, while searching for records of his dad, Reacher beats up a man bullying a woman. Unfortunately, the man is connected to bad actors who come to Laconia looking to settle a score. Three, a Canadian couple find themselves stranded at a remote motel where the owner and his business partners act more than a little strange. The owner’s last name? Reacher.

As always, Child brings these storylines together in an explosive conclusion that kept me turning pages, which is the primary way I evaluate suspense novels. (I read the novel in two long sittings.)

This isn’t the best of the Reacher novels. However, it’s good enough to keep me interested through next year when, come fall, I’m sure Child will publish Reacher’s next adventure. I hope it’s set in San Diego. That’s where Reacher is heading, and lots of interesting happens in San Diego, or could happen, if Reacher were there.

Book Reviewed
Lee Child, Past Tense: A Jack Reacher Novel (New York: Delacorte Press, 2018).

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Helpful” on my Amazon.com review page.

The Midnight Line | Book Review


The Midnight Line is Lee Child’s twenty-second novel featuring Jack Reacher. Reacher sees a West Point class ring in a pawn shop window. Being a product of West Point himself, he knows it is not something a graduate would part with easily. So, he sets out to find what happened to its owner.

In any other author’s hands, this setup would be too improbable a beginning for a suspense novel. But Lee Child is not any other author, and what’s improbable for others makes perfect sense for Jack Reacher. I received The Midnight Line from Amazon yesterday morning and started reading it after my youngest kids went to sleep at 7:00 p.m. I finished it at 12:04 a.m. today.

Child writes the most kinetic prose of any author I have ever read. Reacher seems constantly on the move, physically and intellectually. The only way to keep up with him is to keep turning the page. And trust me, The Midnight Line is a page-turner.

The problem, though, comes once you close the book. At least it has for me, especially after the last few novels. Any piece of fiction requires a willing suspension of disbelief from readers. I get that. In reality, no one finds himself perpetually embroiled in whodunits, matching wits and fists with criminals. I’ll suspend my disbelief on that score.

What bothers me, however, is this: Reacher was born in 1960. He retired—or was retired from—the Army in 1997. In the intervening twenty years, he has hitchhiked from place to place, living in motels, eating at greasy spoons, and working when he feels like or it or needs extra cash. He buys inexpensive clothes, wears them a couple of days, then dumps them in the trash for a new set. He has no home, no possessions (other than sturdy boots, a folding toothbrush, and a canceled passport), no family, and no friends.

And yet, he still operates at peak performance—intellectually and physically. He beats down men half his age. He even finds time for short-lived romances in most of the novels. I’m finding it increasingly difficult to suspend my disbelief about these matters.

Don’t get me wrong: The Midnight Line is a well-written page turner. I didn’t like the ending much, however. I won’t spoil it for you, but the last few pages of the book were pathetic and lame. You’ll know what I mean when you read it.

So, it’s four out of five stars for me for The Midnight Line. As much as I like Jack Reacher, as quickly as I read Lee Child’s novels when they’re published, I find myself increasingly closing them at the finish and thinking, that was fun, but Reacher’s getting too old for this.

 

Book Reviewed
Lee Child, The Midnight Line (New York: Delacorte Press, 2017).

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

Review of ‘No Middle Name’ by Lee Childs


When I’m not reading books germane to my profession as a minister and religion journalist, I like to read mysteries and thrillers. At the top of my list of must-read authors is Lee Child, who has written twenty-one novels featuring Jack Reacher, as well as the twelve short stories contained in No Middle Name: The Complete Collected Jack Reacher Short Stories, just released by Delacorte Press on May 16.

The book contains one new story, “Too Much Time,” and eleven previously published stories, the oldest, “James Penney’s New Identity,” having been written in 1999. With the exception of “Too Much Time,” the stories start with Reacher as a youth and end in the present day. They are of uneven quality, in my opinion. “Too Much Time” is Lee Child at his best, as Reacher is arrested for a crime we all know he didn’t commit. “Maybe They Have a Tradition” and “No Room at the Motel,” both Christmas-time stories involving pregnancies, are, well, just okay.

The number one rule of fiction is the willing suspension of disbelief, which is especially important when reading Reacher stories of any kind. Reacher is a decorated, West Point educated, ex-military police officer who now travels the United States (and world) with little more than some cash, his passport, and a foldable toothbrush in his pocket. Along the way, he gets himself into scrapes with miscreants, whose crimes he detects and whose just sentence he metes out, often violently, even lethally. In other words, he’s a homeless sociopath whose rough justice happens to be directed at targets who had it coming.

What keeps you from thinking about Reacher’s shortcomings too long, in addition to the fact that the targets of his beatdowns are deplorable, is Lee Child’s prose, which I can only describe as kinetic. Child has a way of pulling you along word after word, sentence after sentence, page after page. He makes you want to know what will happen next because you’re right there with Reacher, who’s wondering that too.

If you haven’t read any Jack Reacher stories, I wouldn’t start with No Middle Name, which I generally liked. Start at the beginning with The Killing Floor. The novels will make you a fan. No Middle Name is for the already convinced.

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P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

Review of ‘Make Me: A Jack Reacher Novel’ by Lee Child


5114SvyFceL._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_Lee Child, Make Me: A Jack Reacher Novel (New York: Delacorte, 2015). Hardcover | Kindle

Reading fiction requires a willing suspension of disbelief. With Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels, this suspension usually comes easily. Child is a talented writer whose narrative pacing grabs your attention and drags you along with it until Reacher gets his man.

Unfortunately, I had a hard time suspending disbelief while reading Make Me, the twentieth novel in the Reacher series. The novel is a page-turner, which I read in its entirety on the day of publication. But unlike previous novels, I found myself increasingly skeptical of elements of the story.

For the story to work, we have to believe that Reacher—in his mid-50s and homeless for nearly two decades—has lost none of his vital powers, whether intellectual, physical, social, or whatever. We have to believe that he is able to roam the country without let or hindrance from law enforcement, despite having racked up a body count in the high two-digits. We have to believe that the violence and stress he has both suffered and inflicted have left no lasting marks on his body or psyche. And finally, we have to believe that Reacher has stumbled—yet again—into an enormity through pure happenstance.

We have to believe, in other words, what no one can believe.

Usually, Child drives the story forward so expertly that we go along with the make-believe. He doesn’t do so in Make Me, however…at least not in my opinion. Reacher’s reason for being on the scene is thin. The plot takes a while to develop. When it does, there are too many moving parts. In sum, Make Me is not the best of the Reacher novels. Child’s formula simply didn’t work for me this time.

It saddens me to write a negative review about the latest installment in what is easily one of the best long-running series in contemporary American fiction. I’d like to report a far more positive experience. But I can’t.

Still, the good news is this: Reacher survives. He’ll be back. And I’ll be waiting to turn the pages once again…

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P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

Review of ‘Small Wars: A Jack Reacher Story’ by Lee Child


Small-WarsLee Child, Small Wars: A Jack Reacher Story (New York: Delacorte, 2015). Kindle

In the spring of 1989, Lt. Col. Caroline Crawford of the Pentagon’s War Plans department is executed—military style—in the Georgia backwoods outside Fort Smith. Maj. Jack Reacher is called in to investigate and in the process uncovers a traitor and exonerates an innocent man. A quick and entertaining read, Small Wars will whet your appetite for Make Me, the Jack Reacher novel forthcoming in September.

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

Review of ‘The Affair’ by Lee Child


The-AffairLee Child, The Affair: A Reacher Novel (New York: Delacorte Press, 2011). Hardcover | Paperback | Kindle

If a whodunit is still a page-turner on the second read, it’s a good book. The Affair is a good book. Even though it’s my second time reading it, even though I knew how it would end, I still found myself turning pages late into the night until I finished it.

The Affair is set in 1997. Major Jack Reacher is an active duty soldier and an experienced investigator in the military police. In response to the Clinton Era peace dividend, the U.S. Army is winnowing the ranks, and Reacher’s own career is on the line.

He is ordered to investigate under cover the murder of a woman near an Army base in Mississippi. Members of a special ops group are considered suspects, but the Pentagon wants to make sure the blame is placed anywhere except on its soldiers. The case is political suicide, professionally speaking, but like a good soldier, Reacher takes it anyway.

And solves it. I won’t reveal the solution, but readers of Lee Child’s previous novels will now understand why Reacher left the service and began his peregrinations across the American heartland.

The Affair is the fifteenth novel in Lee Child’s Reacher series, but its events precede the other fourteen. You can read the series in publication order, starting with The Killing Floor, whose events are foreshadowed in The Affair. Or you can start with The Affair. Either way, you’re in for classic Lee Child—even the second time around.

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P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

 

 

Review of ‘Personal’ by Lee Child


Personal Lee Child, Personal (New York: Delacorte Press, 2014). Hardcover / Kindle 

Lee Child has done it again. With Personal, he has written yet another Jack Reacher novel—the 19th in the franchise!—that is unputdownable. From the first sentence to the last, Child grabs your attention and doesn’t let it go.

Reacher owes a guy a favor. The guy happens to be a one-star general and the protégé of a master spy. To repay the favor, Reacher needs to track down the military-trained sniper who took a .50-caliber shot at France’s president before he tries to assassinate other G8 leaders at an upcoming conference in London.

Here’s the thing, though. Reacher knows the sniper. He put him in prison 16 years ago, and now the sniper has a bullet with his name on it. Tracking him down takes Reacher to London and a game of cat-and-mouse with English and Serbian gangsters, including a psychopath ironically named Little Joey. As always, Reacher gets his man, but not before he discovers that truth is not what it seems and the baddest guys aren’t who he thought they were.

Reading a Lee Child novel is a guilty pleasure. What his books lack in philosophical depth, they more than make up for in tight prose, a whip-smart plot, plenty of action, and pacing that’ll make you want to lose sleep rather than close the book.

The only problem? You don’t know when Lee Child will publish his next book.

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

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