Review: Past Tense by Lee Child

9780593078198.jpgPast Tense is fuelled not by nerve-shredding tension or a confounding mystery, rather the tantalising inevitability of Jack Reacher’s collision course with a group of kidnappers who’ve abducted a young couple for an abhorrent purpose. It sticks to the trusted formula, and boasts the unpretentious, staccato prose Reacher’s legions of fans demand — and its insight into Reacher’s past makes it a worthy addition to the canon.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Jack Reacher, on his way no nowhere — well, the West Coast, if you must know — hitchhikes his way into a small, middle-of-nowhere town  Laconia, New Hampshire, in this instance  and steps right into trouble. It’s the archetypal setup for a Reacher thriller, and Lee Child has mastered its unfolding over more than two decades and twenty-three books. Past Tense follows suit, for the most part, with two slight variances: Laconia is the place where Reacher’s father, Stan, grew up, which means this time there’s a personal connection; a history that Reacher wants to explore, for no other reason than he may never pass through the town again. And meanwhile, not too far away, in a isolated motel, readers witness the terror facing a young Canadian couple who find themselves unwilling participants in a psychotic game.

Patty Sundstrom and Shorty Fleck are more than side-characters, or victims waiting to be saved by Reacher. They’re fully-formed, empathetic characters, whose storyline is actually more compulsive than Reacher’s. There’s an urgency to their plight, which doesn’t seep into Reacher’s enquiries until very late on in proceedings. And indeed, it’s fascinating, and exciting, awaiting the moment of intersection between these characters, which doesn’t last long, but is incredibly satisfying when it happens.

Reacher’s mortality has floated to the surface in recent books, so too his own personal realisation of his complete and utter loneliness. Reacher’s interest in his family history maintains this theme, but thankfully, Past Tense is unblemished by the slight melancholic feel that pervaded the finale of The Midnight Line. Come the end of Past Tense, you’ll be fist-pumping the air and awaiting Reacher’s next adventure. There is no doubt: Lee Child and Jack Reacher remain the most reliable entertainers in the genre.

ISBN: 9780593078204
Format: Paperback
Pages: 432
Imprint: Bantam Press
Publisher: Transworld Publishers Ltd
Publish Date: 5-Nov-2018
Country of Publication: United Kingdom


Review: The Midnight Line by Lee Child (Jack Reacher 22)

9780593078174.jpgLee Child course-corrected his Jack Reacher series back in 2003 with the publication of Persuader,  which saw a rawer, more violent Reacher (more reminiscent of the man we met in his debut, Killing Floor) face off against a dangerous figure from Reacher’s past. Not that the series was flagging up until that point, but it was coasting, author and hero comfortable in their roles. Persuader provided the shot in the arm Reacher needed, and some of the character’s best adventures followed, including One Shot, The Enemy, and Never Go Back. Fourteen years later with The Midnight Line, Child has reinvigorated Reacher again, but in a very different way, which will please some readers and possibly concern others. This novel feels like a pivotal point in Reacher’s journey.

The Midnight Line starts in typical fashion. Reacher hops off a bus at a rest stop in Anytown, USA and discovers a West Point class ring in a pawn shop window. With his military background, Reacher understands the severity of the experiences its owner must have gone through to earn it, so he buys it, with one simple goal in mind: to return it. In doing so, he finds himself up against a ring of opioid dealers, and allied with a former FBI agent-turned-private-detective, and the sister of the ring’s owner.

Child’s books are rarely topical or timely, which isn’t intended as a derisive comment, rather one of the pleasures of his thrillers: they are timeless, rarely focused on the societal or political issues at the time of publication. Influenced, perhaps, but always nuanced. But The Midnight Line deals with a very prevalent issue, that of illegal drugs, and how widespread they are in white and rural America, and the government’s flawed attempt to crack down on the problem. Child, surprisingly, for he’s perhaps better known as a wham-bam, cracking-heads author, paints a sympathetic portrait of addicts, and how necessary and fundamental the pleasure and pain relief these drugs provide for people are. The message here isn’t Drugs Are Good! Instead, the underlying message of The Midnight Line is that these drugs are oftentimes necessary for a person’s survival. Addiction is the antithesis of everything Reacher believes in; this is a man who believes in piloting his own destiny, and living by his own moral code. Drug addiction overrules all of that. But as events unfold, he learns to understand how reliant certain people are on opioids, particularly military veterans, whose road to addiction was instigated during their service, and who are left to fend themselves following their discharge.

Reacher’s mortality has floated to the surface in recent books, so too his own personal realisation of his complete and utter loneliness. It’s not that he wallows in it, but there is a bittersweet acceptance of his solitude in The Midnight Line, and his inability to settle, to never stay in one place for more than a few days at a time. Early in the series, Reacher and readers understood his nomadic state to be a result of his insular years in the military, forced from one base to another, always under a superior’s command. Cut loose, he decided to roam free, see the parts of the country he’d never encountered. But years have passed now, and that nomadic inclination hasn’t abated; if anything, it has grown stronger. The Midnight Line makes us wonder: what’s the endgame? Where — how — does Reacher’s journey end?

The Midnight Line lacks the suffocating kind of suspense and heart-pounding thrills provided in the best Reacher adventures, and some readers will groan at the overly-sentimental climax, but there’s still much satisfaction to be had from this more character-driven yarn. Not vintage Reacher, but still damn good.

ISBN: 9780593078174
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x 28mm)
Pages: 400
Imprint: Bantam Press
Publisher: Transworld Publishers Ltd
Publish Date: 7-Nov-2017
Country of Publication: United Kingdom