Philip Jones, editor of The Bookseller and chair of the British Book Awards judges, said: “From Shuggie Bain to The Thursday Murder Club, from All the Lonely People to The Danger Gang, from Hamnet to Black and British, these were the books that answered the call during this period of turmoil, debate and hope.”
Cybercrime, though, is notoriously difficult to translate into fiction, and towards the end the Brothers Child seem to admit defeat and switch to more traditional (not to say stock) villains. The omens for the future are poor in a book where the secondary characters are unmemorable, the dialogue generally one-sided and the women too generic. Perhaps it’s time to retire the baddie-basher, not pass him on.
Jack Reacher fetches up in a Tennessee town called Pleasantville — a misnomer. The town has suffered a ransomware cyber attack, with unassuming IT technician Rusty Rutherford in the line of fire as malign individuals close in. But Reacher is on hand, and (as usual) bone-crunching retribution is on the agenda before a final bloody assault on a bad guy’s citadel. Who wrote what in The Sentinel? Frankly, readers won’t care; the collaboration here produces vintage Reacher. The auguries are that the new author will be able to sustain the trajectory when he is flying solo.
The Sentinel attempts to emulate Lee Child’s withholding of necessary information (also known as suspense) on the level of plot but it just doesn’t sustain interest or coherently resolve. The attempt to move Reacher into the digital age (he tries a mobile) is a mistake, simply.
So, let’s accept, Lee Child is a writer who can’t be so easily reproduced. There is much more to his work than the transferable asset of Reacher. He himself has stated: ‘The character does not exist. It’s just a way of mediating the wants of the reader.’ A purist, he insists: ‘There are only two people in this transaction... The writer and the reader.’ That writer has gone.
This 25th in the Jack Reacher series marks the first time Child — now 65 — has collaborated with anyone to bring his vigilante hero to life.
And he’s chosen his brother Andrew, 15 years his junior and a thriller writer in his own right, to help him. It’s a combination that seems certain to ensure that the ageless former military policeman will go on fighting injustice for another quarter of a century.
Heavens, though, when the world is crumbling, it’s good to have some of Reacher’s brutal certainties back. Pull back to observe the plot and it may all appear higgledy-piggledy in its construction. What matters, as before, is the intensity of the experience while you are in Reacher’s mindset. Few other bestselling authors would dare to bore you by detailing the length of their hero’s shower routine (a relaxed 14 minutes here). Yet that is of a piece with succinct yet avowedly thorough descriptions of restaurants, motel rooms, mansions, bunkers, junk yards, car parks and booby traps.
So begins a chase all over town as Reacher tries to work out what’s going on, a chase that leads to everything from cold war secrets to election sabotage, and takes in all sorts of punch-ups on the way. “You people are in no hurry to help him. Someone’s got to. I’m the one who’s here,” says Reacher, neatly summing up his raison d’etre. It’s great to be back in his company, in a world where the bad guys get what’s coming to them (and a schooling in grammar, too, if they’re lucky – as Reacher keeps saying: “I really dislike the imprecise use of language”).