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.

Review: Never Go Back by Lee Child

Never Go BackLee Child’s 17th Jack Reacher novel, A WANTED MAN, suffered from a major tonal shift in its third act, which had Reacher in full John McClane mode, blasting away at a facility full of bad guys, facing odds that seemed just a tad too insurmountable. For the first time, Reacher flirted with the dark abyss where archaic action heroes go to die. He hadn’t yet fallen in, but he was close, right there on its edge, one step from oblivion.

With NEVER GO BACK, Reacher has leapt away from that black hole. His feet are firmly planted on the ground. He’s safe. He’s secure.

Jack Reacher is back, baby.

NEVER GO BACK sees Reacher return to his old unit, the 110th MP – but not the way readers will expect – and he’s immediately thrown into a complex conspiracy that dates back to his previous stint as a military cop. It’s an intricately plotted mystery, punctuated by moments of classic Reacher violence and humour – which often occur simultaneously. It’s been an epic experiment by Lee Child – three of his last four novels (excluding THE AFFAIR, which was based in the past) – have taken place in close proximity, detailing Reacher’s long journey to meet Major Susan Turner. NEVER GO BACK represents that journey’s end, and, quite rightly, Reacher feels like a changed man. The final line of the novel resonated with me for a long time, like there was a deeper meaning behind those words. I’ll be interested to hear what other fans think.

Child’s novels have always featured strong female leads, and Major Turner is one of the best. She confronts Reacher on his lifestyle, questions his choices, and wonderfully never falls into the role of damsel in distress. Reacher and Turner are a potent duo, and I wonder, with references made to Reacher’s age – early on he’s referred to as “old man” – whether it’s possible Child might one day return to her. I’d certainly be open to it. But it would be foolish to think Reacher won’t still be kicking butt when he’s in his twilight years.

My fears expunged, just like the old days, I’m counting down the days until Child’s next release.

Review: Deep Down by Lee Child

Deep DownDEEP DOWN presents a younger Jack Reacher than we’re used to, in his mid-twenties, tasked with identifying a traitor operating inside the Capitol, selling military secrets to enemies unknown. The catch? The traitor must be identified clandestinely; and all four suspects are women.

Lee Child emphasises Reacher’s youth and relative inexperience as he questions his ability to woo these women into revealing their secrets. Nowadays, Reacher is a master of bedding beautiful women, and it’s a nice touch, reading about a Jack Reacher who isn’t quite as capable or as sure of himself, as he is today. Child hints at the man Reacher will eventually become, but he’s not there yet, hasn’t experienced what was necessary to become the nomadic hero we’re accustomed to. Though by no means is this essential reading, I certainly appreciate the author’s efforts in explicating key moments from his protagonist’s past, and the short-story medium is a great avenue to explore these in.

DEEP DOWN is brisk, easily read over an hour lunch break, but the plot lacks the punch of the Reacher novels. There are few thrills and spills here; rather, this is a competent, enthralling snapshot of an early Reacher mission, very much a straightforward narrative, told in Child’s usual style. It lacks that special something that has allowed the Reacher series to resonate, but nevertheless, this is enjoyable bite-sized entertainment.