Lee Child has the gift of writing highly formulaic thrillers that turn into immediate bestsellers. "Gone Tomorrow " will do the same, even though the formula is getting tired.
"Gone Tomorrow" is the 13th book in the Jack Reacher series and is just like the others except that it is written in the first person. Reacher is a retired major in the elite 101st Division of the Military Police. He is the ultimate loner. He has no home, no commitments and no possessions other than the clothes on his back, an expired passport and an ATM card (which he uses to access his military pension to pay for cheap hotels and new underwear). He does not even have a backpack, or a jacket, or a wallet. He does not wear a watch because he can always tell the time without one (except when sedated - wholly unnecessarily- by a tranquilizer dart usually reserved for gorillas). He does not carry a weapon because he himself is a perfect killing machine and if he does need one, he can always requisition a Heckler and Koch MP5 SD (magazine capacity: 32 rounds, three settings) in the field. Reacher's lifestyle is the first thing that demands the reader's suspension of disbelief.
In this book, as usual, Reacher is crisscrossing the USA hoping to stumble on a sinister conspiracy into which he can insert himself even though it is none of his business. Conveniently, he encounters a potential suicide bomber on the New York Subway. He identifies this risk by running through an Israeli Defence Forces checklist in his head (seasonally inappropriate clothing, prayer mumbling etc) while ignoring a counter checklist of offsetting evidence (middle of the night, Caucasian female subject etc). His bungled attempt to intervene leads to savage encounters with al Qaeda (they WERE involved, after all) the NYPD (which also generously supplies the love or at least the obligatory but brief sex interest), a 600 person Federal task force and a US Senatorial candidate with a past. Everyone is searching for a piece of evidence that is potentially embarrassing to the US Government, the candidate or Osama bin Laden or all of the above. Lots of bad guys are satisfyingly dispatched and numerous arrogant Feds are hoist on their own dart guns.
The plot is, in other words, risible. The secret at the heart of the story is not worth protecting, its revelation anticlimactic in the extreme.The nature and behavior of the two female villains are insultingly implausible. The malevolent incompetence of the Feds ("this is the new world") is just a lazy plot device. If the agents of Child's host country (he is an expatriate Brit) are as sinister and as sensitive about cover up as he suggests, he had better watch his back. Especially if a shiny black Crown Vic - the Standard LY not the Police Interceptor model)-draws up beside him and three men, wearing mid-range blue suits with a slight bagginess in their left shoulders, step out.
While many thriller writers conduct exhaustive research, the homework behind this book - the technical specs of a Kawasaki R142A subway car, the magazine capacities of various firearms, a superficial history of Afghanistan, US military acronyms - could have been conducted on a laptop while sipping a tall, skinny latte in the local Starbucks (but not by Reacher - he is virtually technically illiterate).
Without question, Child still has the gift of writing great suspense. His sparse prose, the elemental violence and the relentless, Cyborgian logic of Reacher's character, build and release tension in a wonderfully cathartic way. But, it feels as if Child is bored with his formula. There are repetitions from the past books, the plotting, the research and the character development are lazy. Gripping but slipping. The franchise is being milked.
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