Sunday, August 26, 2012

In this, his second outing, ex-Army Major Jack Reacher is minding his own business, walking past a dry cleaning shop in Chicago, when an attractive young woman emerges from the shop with nine bags of expensive clothes, a bad knee, and a crutch. She drops the crutch and Reacher jumps to her assistance. In the same moment, two armed kidnappers materialize and order Reacher and the woman into a waiting car.

As any crime fiction reader understands by now, Reacher could take these two thugs with no problem whatsoever. Unfortunately, there are a number of innocent bystanders who might be hurt if the kidnappers manage to get off any shots. Reacher makes this calculation and then follows the woman into the car and is taken along for the ride.

It turns out to be a very long ride in an Econoline van, all the way from Chicago to northwestern Montana, where a nutty but well-armed militia group is preparing to declare its independence from the United States. The kidnapped woman, Holly Johnson, is an FBI Special Agent. She is also the daughter of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the militia's psychopathic but charismatic leader intends to use her as a high profile hostage.

Under normal circumstances, Holly would be well-equipped to handle herself. She is one of the strongest female characters to appear in this series. But with her bum knee, which she injured in a soccer game, she could use a little help. Reacher, of course, is there to provide it, and he and Holly together will have to struggle mightily both to defend Holly's virtue and to prevent the militiamen from accomplishing thier objectives.

This is a fun read, and fans of the series certainly won't want to miss it. I would give it three stars rather than four because it requires more than just the usual suspension of disbelief. In the cold light of day, the whole plot is pretty implausible.

Also, it's clear that Lee Child did a lot of research for this book regarding the weaponry involved. And having done the research, he was apparently determined to use it all. There are a number of points in the book where the action slams to a halt while Child describes in exquisite detail the weapon in question. We then take several paragraphs to watch the powder ignite and the bullet slowly make its way through the barrel of the gun, out into the light of day and arc its way toward the target.

The first time this happens, it's kind of interesting and it does help to build the suspense. After that, you just want him to get on with it. Still, that's a relatively minor complaint, and inevitably, every series must have its weaker entries. To say that most of the Reacher novels are better than this one is not to suggest in any way that it's a bad book, but clearly at this point, Child was still working his way into what would become an excellent series.

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