Night School takes Jack Reacher back to his army days — 1996 to be precise —and hurled into a covert investigation in Germany, alongside an FBI and CIA agent, with world-shattering consequences. The stakes have never been higher than those presented here; the twenty-first Reacher novel.
It begins in customary Lee Child style, which is to say, minimum exposition, immediate narrative momentum. No sooner has Reacher received a Legion of Merit medal than General Garber — a longstanding and important figure in Reacher continuity — reassigns Reacher to a school in Washington DC. But this is a school with (initially, at least) only three pupils: Reacher, an FBI agent, and a CIA analyst. And their orders are simple: to interpret chatter plucked from a source in Germany — the phrase “the American wants a hundred million dollars” — and dismantle whatever reprehensible scheme is in play.
Night School is fast and furious, and epitomises what millions of readers love about Lee Child and Jack Reacher. All the trademark elements are here. Child obfuscates the magnitude of the threat Reacher and his colleagues are facing until very late in the piece —but the revelation lands with a dull thud. The stakes are too high in Night School; at least when one considers what Reacher has faced in previous novels. It makes all his other experiences pale in comparison — which might work in terms of continuity, since nothing has fazed Reacher in the inventing years, and maybe this is why — but the plot’s veer towards James Bond territory rings false, for me, at least. Other readers — and I’ll be intrigued to hear their thoughts — might think differently.
Structurally, however, Night School is immensely satisfying. Few writers are able to build momentum as effectively and concisely; and Child’s brusque prose remains as delectable as ever. Lee Child has the secret sauce, that unrivalled ability to craft genuine page-turners. In my mind, Night School doesn’t rank up there with the very best of the Reacher novels, but that said, I couldn’t put it down, and am eagerly awaiting the next one.