Child’s writing seems unusually expressive in this novel, possibly because of its intimate subject matter. While making inquiries around town, Reacher is invited inside the home of a man who keeps 12 dogs. “The screen door creaked all the way open ahead of him, and slapped all the way shut behind him, which were in his limited experience the eternal sounds of a New England summer.” It’s a startlingly sweet-tempered image, coming from a big bruiser like Reacher — and a reminder that Child is one writer who should never be taken for granted.
Child has created a character with a quiet sense of humour and decent feelings. The subtext of Reacher’s politics is libertarian shading to liberal. He has a strong sense of fairness and justice. He is a likeable fellow, except for the executions. But even though Child typically foregrounds problem-solving, lateral thinking, scene-setting, and vivid character over violence, Reacher commits murder that is not simple self-defence in every novel.
This might be Child’s most flawed novel for some time, partly because its motel subplot is dull and develops frustratingly slowly, partly because its mystery set-up (a band of crooked brothers in a remote rural location, intent on evil) is overly close to 2015’s Make Me. There can be no complaints, however, about Reacher’s adventures (a drolly enjoyable blend of fight scenes and family history), and the denouement, although it arrives too late and should be longer, finds the author back on top form.
In a series as long and successful - this is the 23rd Reacher adventure - there is obviously a formula that must be followed. But Child has always managed to keep the franchise fresh and interesting by, every now and then, fleshing out Reacher's past and incorporating parts of it into the narrative... as tense and as exciting as anything he has done before.
It took me a little while to catch the rhythm of Child’s words. I was not expecting him to be a prose stylist, and sometimes the novel reads like an aggressive EDM mix of Albert Ayler at his most obscure... But then, I got caught in an undercurrent, and found myself being chilled and consumed by the other plot – the couple, seemingly held against their will, at a strange roadside motel. I found these characters creeping into my head at odd intervals, at the gym or doing the washing up. I found myself absorbed in Reacher’s world, very suddenly – in the way that two glasses of Blue Nun can seem no more potent than lemonade until you stand up quickly.
Bird-watching and census-taking are not subjects that stir the blood of the average reader but an excellent writer — and Child is an excellent writer — can make anything interesting. It turns out that Jack is very much a chip off the old block...As ever, the prose is precision-tooled.
Bearing in mind that Lee Child’s fridge-freezer-sized hero Jack Reacher is nothing if not a man of action, it’s a shame that it takes him 91 pages of this adventure to get into his first fistfight. Reacher fans, relax: Child at least partly makes up for that later with an extended bloodbath-in-the-woods set piece that involves quad bikes, blazing cars, night-vision goggles, knives, guns, bows and arrows, and torches used as bludgeons. There’s no hiding it, though, that novel No 23 about the American military policeman turned right-wronging wanderer takes a long old time to get going.