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Sunday October 27, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Sunday October 27, 2013 MYT 10:00:37 AM
By DAVIN ARUL
Well plotted and tightly paced, the latest Jack Reacher book departs from the series’ formula in a couple of ways.
IT isn’t surprising that Jack Reacher appeals to so many people. The former army man turned hobo is living the life many folks dream about – free and easy, drifting from one place to another with no baggage, going wherever his fancy takes him.
And of course, the two-fisted adventures, spectacular (a common adjective Reacher employs) women and the chance to sample coffee across the length and breadth of the United States nicely fulfil our need to live vicariously through our literary heroes.
Perhaps Reacher’s somewhat incongruous movie incarnation summed it up best in that scene in the Jack Reacher film when he asked Rosamund Pike’s idealistic attorney to look at all the supposed “free” people living lives of voluntary enslavement.
“You tell me which ones are free. Free from debt. Anxiety. Stress. Fear. Failure. Indignity. Betrayal. How many wish that they were born knowing what they know now? Ask yourself how many would do things the same way over again, and how many would live their lives like me.” +1!
Oh, for the open road and the freedom to punch idiots in the side of the head (violent lateral displacement of the brain is most effective at incapacitating a target, says a valuable nugget of information from the Encyclopaedia Reacherica) – strictly in the name of justice – and avoiding repercussions simply because you’re way, way off the grid.
Getting back on that grid is a bad move, as book #18 in the series shows us. It is the finale of a four-book arc that began with 61 Hours, more or less continued into Worth Dying For, got interrupted by the flashback tale The Affair, and then went on in A Wanted Man.
Never Go Back marks the culmination of the ex-MP’s (as in Military Police, not Member of Parliament, though Reacher would probably be a huge hit with some legislative assemblies in the region) quest/ mission/ seemed-like-a-good-idea-at-the-time to meet Susan Turner, his successor at the Army’s 110th Special Investigations Unit.
Turner was just a voice on the phone in 61 Hours, a significant factor in the story because of the assistance she provided – in an adventure that proved to be one of Reacher’s more epic screw-ups (he’s only human after all).
The trip has taken him a while, but Reacher finally gets to Washington DC in the opening pages of Never Go Back and almost immediately has cause to regret it. He doesn’t find Susan Turner in his old office, but a different commanding officer named Morgan who proceeds to drop several bombshells on him.
Before long, Reacher has been re-enlisted in the army, and finds himself facing two obviously trumped-up charges. As for Turner, she’s facing a cooked-up charge too, one bordering on treason. I was a bit disappointed that Reacher takes a whole lot longer to see through these than any reader who’s finished at least a handful of Child’s books.
Still, something’s got to give in order to propel the plot along, no?
And the plot of Never Go Back, as thin as it ultimately proves to be, is propelled along quite nicely.
The page-turning momentum from Child’s carefully structured plotting is never in doubt; the zippy pace and peppy dialogue will have you shooting through its 415 pages in hardly any time at all.
At which point you might notice there was something a little off about the whole story. No doubt as a way to break from formula, the author – spoiler ahead, but it has to be said for purposes of this review – keeps Reacher from ever interacting with the Big Bad(s) behind all the malfeasance, such as it is, here.
Instead, he tangles with henchmen a whole lot, and these encounters are a little different, or at least presented differently, from those in previous books (the 13 Jack Reacher books I’ve read since January). I especially liked the way he neutralises two goons in the cramped confines of a passenger airliner without alerting anyone else on board to the act.
Make no mistake, the Big Bads here do feel the relentless Reacher closing in on them, though the resolution just wasn’t what I expected.
Reacher’s eventual (and inevitable) liaison with Turner is, however, exactly what fans of the series would expect.
It’s not detailed in as, umm, vigorous terms as his hooking up with Sheriff Elizabeth Devereaux in The Affair, nor do Turner and Reacher complement each other as nicely. Still, they do make an effective team (oops, wrong Tom Cruise film reference) in getting to the bottom of the mystery.
Never Go Back is a mixed bag in which the treats thankfully outnumber the tricks. I liked how Reacher’s plan to get both himself and Turner out of army detention comes together, and their getaway is a seemingly uneventful affair that will have you holding your breath nonetheless.
There’s an amusing detour into redneck country, where Reacher makes a withdrawal from one of the many “ATMs” that society has seen fit to put in his path, though this sojourn – together with its consequences – has little to do with the main plot.
Ultimately, Never Go Back is up there with the best of the series in terms of plotting and pacing, but has a rather lightweight story and central mystery.
It works better if you look at it as being more about Reacher and Turner, with everything else merely incidental. This relationship, and one of those bombshells that gets dropped on Reacher early on, may lead you to wonder, as the story unfolds, if this could be the one that makes our wandering hero hang up his walking boots and settle down. Here’s a non-spoiler: Naaah.
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Lee Child, never go back, book reviews
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