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Tripwire was the first of Lee Child's novels that I read and on the basis of that book I decided he must be quintessentially American. Jack Reacher, Child's protagonist, seemed the epitome of all things an American might seek to be. I was fair slumguzzled, when researching the author in order to review Echo Burning, to discover Lee Child is a Pom. He went to law school with no intention of practising law, then worked in commercial television for nearly two decades. A victim of 'downsizing' Child had to consider his career and decided to become a novelist.
Child had made many visits to the United States and, in fact, married an American. He decided the U.K. was too confining as a setting for his novels and so settled on the United States as the ideal location for them. His main character, Reacher, was not carelessly conceived then set loose to mould his own destiny. Reacher is carefully crafted indeed. Because the author's knowledge of the U.S. has gaps in it ,a lot of thought was put into Reacher's background. If he were brought up in a variety of locations, including overseas, he would have an incomplete knowledge of his homeland Thus, Reacher became an army brat who followed in his father's footsteps by joining the army and becoming a Military Policeman. After many years he left the army, for as yet undisclosed reasons, and became a drifter.
Reacher is very large - 6'5" - and correspondingly heavy. He is also extremely intelligent and able to plan ahead as well as able to construct the persona of his enemies within his head and thereby think the way they would think and so predict accurately what their next moves will be. (I bet the author is good at playing chess.)
In Echo Burning, Reacher has shucked the house which had been bequeathed to him in Tripwire and having been left by his lover Jodie who has had to go overseas, has resumed his preferred occupation of drifting across America. One of his habits I find particularly admirable and wish I could adopt it: he does not subscribe to the notion of laundering but buys cheap clothing every three days and discards it instead of washing it. Thus, he is not anchored by suitcases.
Another of Reacher's admirable traits is his taciturnity. A large part of the word count of Echo Burning is accounted for by 'Reacher said nothing'. He also remains watchful. And he is a man of great integrity.
The book opens with two men and a boy watching and logging the movements of people in a ranch house in Texas. No hint is given as to the reason for their vigil but the reader knows it has to be sinister. Reacher, in the meantime, has to vacate a town unexpectedly early since an off-duty policeman has picked a fight with him and, now on duty, is looking for Reacher, probably in order to incarcerate him after Reacher is beaten up. Reacher sets out to hitch hike to any destination.
An Hispanic woman, Carmen Greer, gives Reacher a lift and tells him a harrowing tale of spousal abuse from a husband who is to be released from gaol within a couple of days. She has been unable to leave the husband's family or Texas, because the couple has a six year old daughter, Ellie, and Carmen adores the child and would never leave her, but would be unable to take her across the border to a state where they would be safe from the violent husband.
Reacher rejects Carmen's plea for him to assassinate her husband but agrees to work on the ranch in order to protect her, temporarily at least.
A trio of killers masquerading as, amongst other things, FBI agents are also moving toward Echo County. Their first victim of the tale is a lawyer... Al Eugene, who works for Sloop Greer, Carmen's husband.
Child's descriptions and attention to detail are remarkable. The story is set in a hot, dry summer and the awful conditions are conveyed to the reader in all their horrid discomfort. The book deals with racism and the red-neck culture of the 'good old boy', but, more importantly is a top notch mystery and thriller. I have to admit that I was reading the novel while travelling on a train, and found the story so engrossing I overshot my station. I could not contain my impatience to get home and resume reading. Action packed, thoughtfully constructed with a likeable and admirable hero and blacker than black villains, it would be a great loss to any mystery lover to miss this tale.
Editoržs Note: This is a review of the Australian hard cover edition.
Reviewed by Denise Wels, April 2001
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