“Better Off Dead” is Andrew Child’s second time behind the wheel of his brother Lee’s Jack Reacher franchise, and it’s another perfectly formed action thriller that sees the former military policeman turned nomadic dispenser of extrajudicial justice face up against criminal mastermind Waad Dendoncker in a remote town on the US-Mexico border.
Its opening reminded me of the seventh Reacher novel, “Persuader,” which also began in medias res: there, Reacher shot a cop while attempting to foil a kidnapping; here, we’re introduced to Dendoncker at the morgue as he identifies the body of a man, confirmed dead by the coroner: it’s — no, it can’t be! — Jack Reacher.
“Reliable” isn’t the sexiest descriptor, but “The Sentinel” shows Jack Reacher — even with Andrew Child rather than older brother Lee behind the wheel — remains the closest you can get to a sure-thing when it comes to page-turning, wham-bam entertainment.
Andrew Child isn’t here to revolutionise the Reacher formula. It’s a blueprint for international bestsellerdom. He’s not crazy. Nor would I call this a reinvigoration. It’s a fairly imperceptible continuation. Which is precisely what Reacher’s acolytes want. More of the same. In recent books, we’ve had an increasing number of references to Reacher’s mortality; “Past Tense and “The Midnight Line” come to mind. That was until last year’s “Blue Moon” which ratcheted up the gunplay to the nth degree; like a course correction that skewed too far wide. Andrew Child finds the right balance here. There’s no mention of Reacher slowing down; and the action is rooted where it belongs, with Reacher’s unrivalled physicality and fists. Scrap Reacher’s mid-fight rejoinders — what is he, Spider-Man? — and you wouldn’t know this wasn’t penned by Lee himself.
That’s the most impressive thing about “The Sentinel.” Save for a few minor textual infractions, it doesn’t read like it’s been co-authored. Never mind the plot. It’s typically potboilery. Which is not a disparaging remark, just a statement of fact. The Reacher books have never been about their byzantine storylines. They’re loved because of their inherent simplicity. Reacher wanders into a place, finds trouble, solves the problem, and leaves. In this case the town is a small place outside Nashville. The trouble is the imminent abduction of an IT worker named Rusty Rutherford (although it’s more complicated than that, involving Russians, Nazis and election fraud). And the solution involves — well, Reacher inserting himself into all kinds of difficult situations, asking questions of people who won’t easily provide answers, gradually dismantling a nefarious scheme. More than one, in fact.
Rest assured, folks. Jack Reacher’s in a safe pair of hands.
Number Of Pages: 400
Available: 27th October 2020
Publisher: RANDOM HOUSE UK