Review: Personal by Lee Child

PersonalPERSONAL, the nineteenth Jack Reacher novel, is a perfectly adequate thriller. There’s the requisite action and intrigue that aficionados demand, plus a villain with exaggerated physical dimensions who provides an actual physical threat to Reacher, and while there is enough here to sate irregular thriller readers who are perhaps not entirely cognizant of the genre’s trappings, for the rest of us, who have been with Lee Child and his nomadic hero since the beginning, PERSONAL continues the gradual decline of a once-great series. There is still plenty to enjoy, but there is a definite lack of the pizzazz the series’ best offered – which, in my mind, peaked with PERSUADER.

Justify it any way you want, PERSONAL’s narrative is founded on the pure coincidence through which Jack Reacher is pulled into a conspiracy involving a sniper – possibly more than one – with his / their sights set on a spectacular assassination attempt of an unknown government leader at the forthcoming G8 summit. He – or they – have already demonstrated their capabilities by taking a crack at the French president, who was saved only a layer of bulletproof glass. Reacher’s involved because very few marksmen could pull off such an audacious shot – and he imprisoned one such candidate, recently escaped, back when he was a military cop. Reacher caught him once; he can do it again, right?

Child freshens up proceedings by shifting locales – Paris and London is where the action is primarily set – but the British thugs play the same roles as their US counterparts: unchallenging fodder for Reacher. Which is the problem: the more things change, the more they stay the same. As innovative as it once was, the Reacher formula has become stale. There’s a distinct lack of stakes in PERSONAL. I’m accustomed to the Reacher novels spiking my heart rate; they should be pulsating readers. But in this case, my heartbeat was steady. PERSONAL feels very by-the-numbers and methodical; Reacher doing what he’s done before, no better, no worse: but it’s all too familiar.

The introduction of Casey Nice is the highpoint of PERSONAL: a young, capable but troubled operative, who doesn’t take on the trademark role of Reacher’s lover – she’s simply a worthy ally, with enough about her to warrant further exploration. Of course, if Child is consistent, Nice is destined to fade into obscurity, which is a real shame.

A disappointing instalment, then – but only because Child revolutionized the modern-day thriller, and each new release comes with gargantuan expectations. Maybe it’s time he took a break from Jack and tried his hand at something new. I’d love to read the result.

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