AFTER reading 15 Jack Reacher novels in the space of eight months, picking up a 16th – even if it has been almost a year since I read my last one – would sound like a bit of a chore. See, not all of those 15 were terrific reads (although most were). A couple of them meandered, one was pretty pointless, and that wholeNever Go Back business seemed like an anticlimactic finish to the wandering hero’s determined trek to meet a woman who was, over the space of four books, just a voice on the phone.
Now there’s Personal, book #19 in the series, which sees the former military policeman drawn back into service just because he owes someone a favour from way back.
Over in Paris, a sniper has taken a shot at the President of France. The VVIP was unhurt, but most people suspect the shooter was just auditioning for a more lucrative contract. The difficulty of the shot suggest three possible shooters, one of them American and ex-military, the potential trigger of an international incident if he gets caught killing a foreign dignitary on foreign soil. And it happens to be a sniper Reacher put away years ago, out of jail now and possibly bent on revenge against him as well.
Is that what makes it Personal? Yes and no. There’s more to it, as usual, but don’t go fretting that this is going to be a rehash of One Shot (the one made into the Jack Reacher movie) , although both tales involve snipers.
There are Reacher books that are more mystery than thriller, some that are outright thrillers. And some where the genre fit is irrelevant, just an excuse to create a “dilemma of principles” for Reacher, to explore his failings and all-too-human nature. Just so, y’know, you don’t go around thinking he’s some kind of infallible demigod superhero or something.
Personal is all thriller, make no mistake. Reacher is drawn into the investigation even though his walking muscles are screaming at him to turn around and hit the road – because it’s the principle of the thing, the debt he owes.
The book is a much more riveting read than its predecessor, with its jetsetting (to Paris and London), intelligence agencies (Russian and British, as well as the CIA) and local thugs (French and British) added to the mix of lean prose and punchy dialogue.
It’s the realm of James Bond and Jason Bourne, complete with a young and eager female operative with the very Bond Girl-y name of Casey Nice. But of course, no fancy gadgets and only a slightly more travel-worthy set of clothes.
I won’t say whether or not Reacher makes nice with Nice, the way he frequently does with his lady companions on his investigations; suffice to say that the situation plays out in exactly the way it should. She also reminds him of a previous failure, the hook on which the author hangs this book’s quota of soul-searching, just for those who want a little more “depth” than an unrelenting sniper hunt.
But there’s more than just long-distance-killer villainy at play here. A case is made early on in the book for international assassins to be in business with the local criminal element for various reasons (like protection, shelter and running interference with the law). So Personal also brings Reacher up close and personal with the Romford Boys, the bad dudes of the locale for most of the story, and their leader, the ironically named Little Joey.
This is not the first time the six-five Reacher – yes, I’m talking book Reacher, not movie Reacher – has gone up against someone even bigger than he is, but I still quite enjoyed Child’s vivid descriptions of Joey’s gargantuan dimensions. They add to the anticipation of the moment when the two inevitably clash, and also belie the canny survival instincts Joey demonstrates (not bad for a glorified street punk).
There’s one aspect I found lacking, and that’s in the depiction of the so-called main antagonist, the sniper himself. Sure, insights or sniper’s point-of-view passages may have spoiled the little surprises Child periodically springs on us; but there are ways of putting the reader into the shooter’s headspace withoutgiving way his identity or his motivations.
In fact, Child has pulled off this kind of thing before, in other Reacher tales. Maybe he just didn’t want to repeat himself. Or, maybe, the sniper was always meant to be a cipher, a mere plot device to advance the story along.
Speaking of which, that story advances itself quite nicely, thank you. So, not a chore reading this at all.