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How it all began... but didn't reach the heights of others
on 22 November 2011
Reacher has been a wonderful character over a long series of books - accepted wisdom realises that you will have hits and misses in a series of this length and that shock horror.... readers may find the plots and character become a little formulaic. When a reader enters into this style of a series they are buying into that, how odd would it be if Poirot or Marple suddenly failed in their summing up? The key for the author is to keep the character dynamics, suspense, locations and motivations fresh... even as a fan, Child has struggled with that key component in recent times. He's had an equal share of hits and misses.
This story takes us back to the beginning - a few months prior to the Killing Floor, the first Reacher book all those years ago. It's the story of how he leaves the army, the creation of the cloud intolerance to injustice that hangs over the head of the character from there on in. It's the introduction of the defining elements that make up the man, the character. He's sent on a undercover PR/clean up mission to a rural army base to monitor the investigation of a murder that may have been committed by a soldier. The back drop is the late 90's cuts in defence spending, political intrigue and of course Reachers growing sense of disillisonment with the army and the world at large. He liaises with the local female sheriff and meets his 'dopelganger' in Major Munro another MP who's based on site. Reacher needs to protect the army's reputation and image but also for his own sake find the killer and see justice done.
The writing is never less than excellent, the characterisation, plot developoment and narrative flow are, as always with Child, done to the highest level. I did get a bit bored of the over long sex scenes... but's that just me. So why a 3 star review I hear you cry... well in truth it's a 3.5. I found the story and the plot well written and it held my attention - was it easily predictable... no... but then there were only ever two likely villians and so the outcome was always a 50:50 guess until around the last 50 pages. Then it was obvious. There in lay the problem. There could never have been more than two killers... that did lead to a lack of suspense and it meant a lack of intrigue. We know Reacher is going to get it right... Thus the last 50 pages dragged a bit as we drew to the inevitable summing up of reachers thinking. Which was neatly done. The book suffered because we had essentially two characters and a whole series of bit players, characters that offered some colour but no real depth. We get introduced to a few characters that will appear in later Reacher novels and it's familiar and comfortable but they are window dressing. For once Child fails to bring the location to life, maybe it really is to dull.. but a combination of the lack of characters and relying on did they or didn't they plot structure means the book, while it zips along, never quite grabs your sense of suspense.
This is by no means the best Reacher novel... but it is a well constructed and well written one, it lacks the depth and suspense of the best but it is not the worst either. Even Child's worst efforts are a cut above most writers today so you are guaranteed a decent read. I' not sure where Reacher can go now... he's getting to long in the tooth for the roving shagging, fighting vigilante and maybe some degree of settling down, becoming a local sheriff in an isolated community might be his way forward...
Note: All Reacher fans hate the idea of Tom Cruise playing him the film... I liken it to Eddie Murphy getting the part of William 'The Fridge' Perry in a biopic. But Crusie himself/his production company bought the rights to several books and so he hasn't been cast as such rather he has cast himself!