The unusually busy plot involves a ruthless gang war between Albanian and Ukrainian mobsters, so a stack of corpses is only to be expected. But when more than a dozen fresh kills piled up at the last minute, I lost count. That’s a shame because a pivotal plot point — that both the Albanians and the Ukrainians rush to blame “the Russians” for Reacher’s acts of mischief — is pretty funny. As always, Child gets a charge out of flaunting Reacher’s impressive build, but he’s also unafraid to show his hero’s softer side. Here it’s the big guy’s gentle treatment of an old couple being squeezed by extortionist loan sharks. And for the first time in a long time, we get a real feeling for Reacher’s endless wandering: “No job, no home, always restless. Always moving. Just the clothes on his back.”
The violence, like Child’s prose, is “controlled, and timed, and aimed, and crafted” and reaches an operatic, almost comedic level as the gun-toting goons just keep on coming at them... Blue Moon is an über-thriller in which “things turn out just right”. It’s nothing less than morality pornography: it provides a satisfying climax and leaves you breathless, glad to be alive in a wicked world.
And good work, Lee Child. If you’re at all partial to his revenge fantasies, this is one of the best for a while. As ever, it really shouldn’t work. Reacher is so superhumanly tasty with his fists, so strategically sound that you rarely fear for his safety. Yet Child’s style is direct, informative, urgent. He takes us through in such detail what sort of force is being exerted, what sort of masonry bit is being used, what sort of strategy our man is deploying, that the whole ludicrous shebang takes on the plausibility of a DeWalt instruction manual.
These exploits are proficiently recounted and a topical theme is unfurled; but there’s a slight sense of going through the motions, even (in the Tarantinoesque firefights, and Reacher’s fling with a waitress half his age) of self-parody. And more than a few readers might be troubled by the fact that all the villains are from specific immigrant groups, a departure for Child.
This time, the nomadic Reacher is on a bus when he sees a thief about to steal a wad of cash from the pocket of an old man and steps in to save the day. The problem isn’t solved, though: as Reacher tries to protect the man and his wife, he finds himself drawn into a turf war between rival Ukrainian and Albanian gangs for control of a city. While the multiple set-piece face-offs start to pall a little, it is tremendously comforting to be in the hands of Child and his hero – a good man who we know will save the day in the end before moving on, toothbrush in pocket, “just the clothes on his back. No particular place to go, and all the time in the world to get there.”