Saturday, 1 June 2013

Lee Child: A Wanted Man

It's never clear who in this book actually is the wanted man. I have a nagging thought that when Reacher stumbled out of the last book and into the first pages of this one, Child had figured to have a manhunt going on, but then couldn't think of a way to make that work, or a way to get his publisher to change the title. The production of Jack Reacher books is such an industrial production line process these days that I imagine the title for this book was set in stone, or at least advertising, long before it was out of first draft.

Give or take the flashback of The Affair Reacher has spent the last few weeks of his own time and the last three years or so of real time trying to hitchhike from South Dakota to Virginia, because he spent part of the narrative in 2010's 61 Hours on the phone to someone there and he was taken enough with her to want to meet her in person. It's proving a difficult hitch-hike; he spend Worth Dying For getting beat up before wiping out some kind of pedophile ring (I read it a while back and it's not like this stuff sticks in my mind for long) and he's no sooner started trying to thumb a lift out of that mess than he's hitched a ride with an all-new mess. From the "coming next on the Jack Reacher show" teaser at the end of A Wanted Man it looks as though he does finally get to Virginia without further distractions, but otherwise Reacher's life seems set to continue its weary pattern of puzzling situations which require him to figure out a problem and then kill more or less everyone still left standing up in his immediate vicinity.

By now, I'd have thought that Reacher would be bending his formidable intellect to the puzzling question of why he doesn't seem to be able to get through a week without walking face first into someone else's disaster. It was bad enough when trouble seemed to come and get him once a year or so, but he's been having a terrible year in his own world, and you'd think a guy so prone to mulling things over would be looking at his life choices and wondering whether perhaps it was time to buy some new tactics.

But of course, for Lee Child, all this is working. It's not like I didn't buy the latest novel, and I don't suppose it made much difference to his royalty checks that I bought it of £3.99 in a supermarket along with the week's fruit and veg. £3.99's about my price point for something that I'm going to read once; it's not like I'm on tenterhooks to see what's coming next in Reacher world. But I was looking at what I had to say about 2009's Gone Tomorrow and I have nothing new to say about the structure of Jack Reacher books. There's still a puzzling and potentially intriguing set-up which kind of fizzles out when Child has to think of a way for it all to fit together. All is not as it seems. Of course. It's just that when we're shown what it's really supposed to be, what we've already seen stops making sense of any kind. And yet there are nice ideas. I liked the notion that homeland security empire would start buying up no-tell motels to keep people in for their own good. I liked it that for once, central government weren't the bad guys. I liked that the central terrorist scheme was essentially a scam, but it would have been more fun to spend some quality time meditating on the ephemeral nature of money, and better writing to foreshadow it more rather than sort it all out in five pages of exposition after a gun battle.

In good news for those of us who've started to find Reacher's unstoppability a bit wearing, it turns out that he can't drive very well, though tiresomely enough, he's still so perfect that unlike all the other drivers in the world, he knows he's a below average driver, so even when it comes to driving, he's still improbably better than most of us, damn him.

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