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by Lee Child
Delacorte Press, May 2004
400 pages
ISBN: 0385336675

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Lee Child, the Briton who writes American crime fiction, has, for a long time, been dribbling little bits of information about the history of his protagonist, Jack Reacher, to his appreciative audience. Reacher has always been portrayed as a drifter, but one with a military background. In Child's novel previous to this, PERSUADER, he switched to a first person narrative which he continues in this book, thereby giving the reader a deeper insight into Reacher's character.

On New Year's Eve 1989, Major Jack Reacher is on duty. The telephone rings just as the new decade begins and a civilian policeman tells Reacher that they have the body of a soldier in a motel room. Reacher refers the policeman to post headquarters but does not avoid the duty when his boss, Colonel Garber, sends him to investigate as the dead man is a general, Ken Kramer.

Although Kramer died of a heart attack, soon Reacher decides that things are badly awry. Kramer was on his way home from Germany in the company of two of his staff, yet he chose to drive hundreds of miles out of his way to a seedy motel, where it was obvious he intended a sexual encounter.

When Reacher needs a female officer to accompany him to notify the general's widow of her husband's demise, he chooses, almost at random, Lieutenant Summer, a black and beautiful woman hoping for a promotion. Together they travel to Virginia but are unable to rouse the widow -- because she is dead, slain in the middle of the night by a blow to the head .

Reacher has already noticed that the general's briefcase, which must have contained the agenda for the conference which he and his staff were to attend, is missing and he feels that it is possible the briefcase may have been the object the intruding murderer sought.

Reacher has only recently been posted back to the States. He is astonished to learn that many brother officers have also been returned to the US leaving their previous posts in relatively inexperienced hands. Somehow, he feels this may have a bearing on his investigation.

Summer proves an invaluable companion. She is smart and a born detective. Then they both fall foul of Reacher's boss when he is horrified to learn that Garber has been transferred and Reacher and Summer have been ordered, by the incompetent replacing the colonel, to relinquish the investigation. Needless to say, Reacher does not obey and the pair continue their investigation as further people are slain.

This work is, as usual for Child, an engrossing delight. He incorporates aspects of history -- in this case, the fall of the Berlin Wall -- into a tale that does not lose by the inclusion of a non-didactic history lesson. The reader meets Reacher's brother Joe as well as the brothers' mother. In this story Reacher appears, perhaps, to be a little more human and a little less remote.

Child's prose is typified by his short sentences. He never forces the reader to wade through involved sentences. He sounds (to this untrained ear) to narrate a quintessentially American tale. I do, however, wish he would stop saying 'I said nothing' and 'He' -- or she --'said nothing.' as those phrases take up a goodly portion of the text. The author plots an excellent and suspenseful mystery with the action keeping the reader suitably tense. I would hazard a guess that Child intends delving into Reacher's past in future novels as there still appear to be untold secrets.

Reviewed by Denise Pickles, June 2004

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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