We no longer question whether we’ll get a new Jack Reacher novel each year. Excitement for each new instalment in Lee Child’s long-running series is based on which city or town Reacher will wander into next, and the type of depravity he’ll face up against. By now, with twenty novels under his belt, we are accustomed to Reacher dishing out his particular brand of justice, bedding his female companion along the way, and ending his four-hundred-page escapade with his thump pointing at the sky, awaiting his next journey. It’s never been any secret: there is a formula to these bestselling novels. And while I’ve read – and enjoyed – every single one, Reacher is growing stale; for me, at least.
There is no doubting Child’s ability to craft a page-turner thriller. He is a grandmaster at his craft, and his legion of fans will undoubtedly enjoy his latest – and for good reason. Make Me is packed with all the essential Reacher elements. Which is essentially my problem with it. There’s nothing here we haven’t seen before. Reacher has taken on far more fearsome foes. He’s solved more compelling mysteries. Make Me feels like just another Jack Reacher thriller. I read it, enjoyed it, put it down… and that will be the extent of my relationship with it. It’s not Persuader; one of Child’s rawest, most brutal thrillers. It is not The Enemy; a brilliant flashback to Reacher’s days as a military cop. And it’s not One Shot, which features one of Reacher’s most enthralling investigations. It’s just another Reacher novel. And I want more, damn it; something resonant. Something to propel the series forwards another twenty instalments.
Make Me begins with Reacher arriving in the small town of Mother’s Rest for no good reason. And that’s absolutely fine. The name intrigues Reacher, so he steps off the train to check it out. That’s a very Reacher thing to do. He has an inquisitive mind. He’s instinctive. If wants an answer so something, he’ll go find it; sometimes it involves the cracking of skulls. Other times, just a gentle meander, which is all he intends his visit to Mother’s Rest to be. But almost immediately he’s drawn into the mystery of a private investigator’s disappearance. The PI’s partner – a woman named Chang – seizes on Reacher’s investigatory experiences, and utilizes his skillset to further her enquiries. Their quest for answers takes them away from the small town – to Los Angeles and Chicago, then back again – and along the way they confront a variety of unseemly characters, who are dealt with in typical Reacher fashion.
But this time, Reacher’s not bulletproof – and what a breath of fresh air this is, seeing the bad guy get a couple of hits in; witnessing Reacher dealing with the consequences of a violent confrontation. Reacher’s almost-invulnerable status was exciting, once upon a time; more recently it has grown tiresome. It’s great to see Child acknowledge this, and dangles the possibility of repercussions further down the line. Our heroes need to display some degree of vulnerability; without it, they become caricatures. I never viewed Reacher as Rambo, but he was coming close. Make Me provides a wonderful step backwards.
The first hundred pages of the novel are riveting. Child keeps the villain’s and their nefarious schemes shrouded in mystery; Reacher and Chang are literally chasing shadows and digging for scraps as they seek to uncover the truth behind the PI’s disappearance. But the ultimate reveal pales in comparison to the build-up. The climactic confrontation is sufficiently executed, but lacks the gusto of Reacher’s finest moments. Again, there’s nothing overtly wrong, here – it’s just lacklustre in comparison to the series’ best.
The Jack Reacher novels were once synonymous with thrillers of the highest quality. There are intimations in Make Me that suggest the series can hit those heights again. I’ll be back in 2016, with my fingers crossed.