Tag Archives: Lee Child

Lee Child back with prequel Night School

night-schoolLee Child’s new Jack Reacher book, Night School, has two strikes against it, according to my husband.  One, Reacher’s working with a team.  Two, it’s set in the past.  According to book critic-slash-graphic designer-slash-artist Mr. B, the best Reacher stories are present-day and Reacher, solo, against the bad guys.

All of which goes to prove that Karen and her hubby don’t always agree.  Set in the mid-90s, Night School features a 35-year-old Reacher teaming up with his opposite numbers at the FBI and the CIA for a covert operation in Germany.  The goal: to find out what jihadists would pay $100 million for, where it came from, and who is “the American” who is selling it to them.  And, of course, to stop the sale and recover whatever it is.  Because it’s sure to be bad.

So here is what Reacher naysayers won’t like about Night School:  Reacher wins all his fights, even when it’s eight to one (or should I say eight to two, since the charming-yet-lethal Sgt. Frances Neagy does finish off the last one, arriving just in the nick of time).  Reacher is irresistible to the one high-ranking, ultra-attractive older woman on the team, and their sexual escapades are almost too much.  (Again?  she asks.  Yes, but then again, he’s younger than she is.)  He throws away his clothes and buys new ones, even when he’s not moving around and could go to the laundromat.  His insights almost always pay off, eventually.  And the characters are all about 2 inches deep.

And of course, what fans like:  All of the previous paragraph.  Plus the twistiness of the plot.  His breaking the rules to save the innocent.  Plus, Reacher’s infallibility when it comes to sizing things up and doing what needs to be done – even if it’s shooting an unarmed man in the heart.  And then the head.  Because he’s a really, really bad man.

So, count me among the fans.  I know it’s a formula.  But I like the formula.  I like 6’5″, 250 lb. guys who are ultra-cool under pressure.  (Not that I know any in real life.  It would probably be super scary and I’d back away, slowly, if I met one.)   And with Night School, you get what you came for, in spades.

Recommended Reading: Lee Child, Sara Paretsky

I recently plowed my way through a stack of books and am dismayed at the idea of posting a full review of each one… but they were all varying degrees of good, from pretty good to darn good to excellent.  So I’m just going to give you a mini-reviews and let you search further if you wish to do so.  (Who knows, that may be all you wanted in the first place!)

make meFirst up is Lee Child’s Make Me.  It’s classic Jack Reacherthe outsider rolls into town; encounters a plucky, pretty lady; uncovers a hornet’s nest of evil; vanquishes the foes, emerges victorious!  This time,  Reacher’s traveling cross country with no real deadline when he decides on a whim to get off the train at a rural crossroads called Mother’s Rest (the town!).  His goal: to figure out who the mother is and why she’s resting.  Little does he know that his big size and self-assured manner marks him.  He pairs up with a former FBI agent, now private detective, who’d come to Mother’s Rest to lend a hand to a colleague (the plucky, pretty lady!).  And in this outing, the evil-doers are truly unnervingly evil… and you won’t figure it out until Child wants you to, because there’s the first level of evil and then another level even more evil below it.  It’s no spoiler to let tell you that Reacher is, indeed, victorious.  Make Me‘s one of the best.

brush backAnd speaking of long-time favorites, Sara Paretsky is back with a new entry in her series about Chicago PI V.I. Warshawski – Brush Back.  I recently moved to Michigan after 20 years in the Chicago area, but Paretsky is a Chicago native who lives there still, and she writes about neighborhoods that I have never seen but accept wholeheartedly.  This time around, V.I. reluctantly agreed to help her high school boyfriend prove that his mother did not kill his sister – despite the fact that said mother served 25 years for the crime.  She’s out now and is just as unpleasant today as she was back then.  And worst of all, she’s blaming V.I.’s long-dead but beloved cousin and pro hockey player Boom-Boom Warshawski for her daughter’s death. Between neighborhood ties, the mob, and crooked politicians, V.I. is lucky to escape bloody, but unbroken and reveal the truth.

Girl in the Spider’s Web: Can anyone live up to Stieg?

girlI read the new Lisbeth Salander/Mikael Blomqvist novel by David Lagercrantz over the Labor Day holiday, and just a few hours before that I read Lee Child’s review of the book in the Sunday New York Times. This was not necessarily an intuitive matchup, but I liked Child’s take on the book, which boiled down to this:  readers want to engage with Lisbeth, to relive the excitement and energy and connectedness of discovery of her as a character… and Lagercrantz does a good job, but doesn’t quite come up to the original.

At the time I read the review, I wondered… how much of Child’s perspective is because of Lagercrantz’s efforts, and how much of it is just the idea that no one could recapture that magic?  

The answer:  It’s Lagercrantz.  Or perhaps his translator, although for all I know, the publisher got the same translator.

Don’t get me wrong, the book is totally worth reading, and I enjoyed it.  But both the plot and the characters were missing that feeling of desperate urgency that Larsson’s books had.  In Spiders Web, Blomkvist and Salander are at arms length, but work together to solve the murder of Frans Balder, an oddball scientist who was working to develop a superior form of artificial intelligence.

In many ways, the most compelling character in the book is Balder’s nine-year-old son, August.  August is autistic, but also a savant in math and art. He’s a witness to his father’s murder, and the goal is to keep August alive and vanquish the villains while exploring the potential impact of AI that is even more intelligent than the human brain.

Of course, there’s also a subplot about corporate skulduggery at Millennium, the magazine Blomkvist founded, and a lot of admiration for him as a journalist even as the people around him are conspiring to oust him.

All in all, I did not find the stakes in Spider’s Web high enough to live up to my expectations for the Stieg Larsson series.  But it is a well-written book, with familiar and enjoyable characters, some terrific bad guys, a heart-wrenching death of an innocent, and the potential for many books to come, so I say: read it!

Jane Whitefield back in A String of Beads


Thomas Perry at Men of Mystery

I discovered Thomas Perry in the mid 1990s, with Vanishing Act, the debut novel in his Jane Whitefield series.  The series was unusual for a number of reasons.  First, although the focus is on crime, it features neither a law enforcement professional nor a private detective.   Second, the purpose is generally not crime-solving and locking up bad guys.  And third, the main character’s not a white guy.

Jane Whitefield is a woman with an interesting past who uses her experience to help people in trouble disappear.  She’s like a one woman witness protection program, but without the bureaucracy.  Her clients tend to be ordinarily people – they may not be saints, but they’re in way over their heads.   She’s Native American – Seneca, to be precise – and her culture informs her every action.  Vanishing Act was followed rapidly by a series of additional Whitefield books, at which point Perry took a break from Jane.  She was back in Runner, followed by Poison Flower, and now a brand-new book,  A String of Beads.

beadsBeads is Jane’s most personal assignment.  The clan mothers of her tribe have given her a string of beads – purple and white – as a symbol of their assignment: to find her childhood friend, Jimmy Sanders, and bring him back to face murder charges.  (Yes, I know, kind of the opposite of hiding someone!)  Jane’s married now, and her husband, surgeon Cary MacKinnon, is not so understanding when she heads out, retracing the steps she and Jimmy took as fatherless 13-year-old so long ago.

But what about that murder?  Jimmy’s innocent, of course.  He punched a drunk in a bar a few weeks ago, but now that drunk – Nick Bauermeister- has been shot dead, right in front of his girlfriend’s eyes.  The cops would look at Jimmy no matter what, but he’s suspect #1 because someone has stepped forward to say “I sold Jimmy Sanders a rifle two weeks ago.”  Not just a mistake, it’s a frame-up.  And that changes everything.   To fulfill the mothers’ assignment, Jane can’t just bring Jimmy home.  She has to solve the crime.

That may take Jane a while, but the reader’s not too mystified, because we kn0w pretty quickly that Nick’s not just a drunken, controlling lout, but a criminal.  It’s his boss, the not-too-smooth-with-the-women Dan Crane, who killed him so he could steal his girlfriend, the beautiful and trusting Chelsea Schnell.

What follows is the always-compelling cat-and-mouse game that is common to Jane Whitefield novels, where Jane stays one step ahead of the bad guys and has to save her charge from certain death a couple of times.  This usually includes at least one time where the charge makes a stupid move, like calling his mom or giving his address to his girlfriend.  Perry is a pro at this kind of writing, Jane is amazing, and even if you’ve read it a dozen times before, it still keeps those pages turning.  (A bit like Lee Child’s Reacher books in that respect.)

I pounced when A String of Beads came out and consumed it with enthusiasm:  I love Jane.   That being said, this was not her best outing, with less suspense than usual and no real sense of danger, perhaps because all the bad guys are not particularly well-motivated.  At the end, Jimmy’s back home and the clan mothers are happy, but I had the nagging feeling that too many local people now know Jane’s secret.  It’s a worry.

If you’re already a fan, you’ll want to read A String of Beads.  If you’ve never read a Jane Whitfield novel, start with the earlier ones:  Dance for the Dead was particularly harrowing.

Recently Read Mini-Reviews

I don’t always have the time to do a full review of all the books I read!   Still, I would like to comment on many, if only to give a whole-hearted recommendation for some, a word of caution on others, or perhaps a “don’t waste your time.”   All three featured today are “go for it.”

PersonalLeeChildPersonal is the new Jack Reacher novel from a long-time fave.  I’ve read every Lee Child book since the first one (The Killing Floor), and have reviewed a few (here, here, and sorta here).  Am I fan?  Yep.  I bought it in hardback at my local indie bookstore.  (To be fair, I know my husband will probably want to read it, too, so it cuts the price by 50%.  Or so I tell myself.)  The 19th book in the series stacks up pretty well, although Child doesn’t quite deliver on the foreboding promises made by the title (very little interaction with the bad guy, it’s not that personal, and it’s over pretty quickly) or on the backstory reference to Dominique Kohl (potentially pretty chilling, and I kept waiting for it).  It does have the usual strong writing, well-paced plotting, and of course, the Jack Reacher character.  Jack himself is enough to make any Reacher novel worth reading.

burial-ritesBurial Rites by debut novelist Hannah Kent is a based-on-real-life, moody crime novel set in Iceland in 1828.  Agnes Magnusdottir was convicted of murdering two men and is exiled to a farm in the north to await execution.  The book tells her story, but also how Agnes affects those around her, including the family who house her during her final months and the young clergyman who serves as her spiritual guide.   This bleak tragedy is warmed throughout by the characters.  Well-written and affecting, but painful- keep the hankies handy.

rosieThe Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion just begs to be made into a movie.  Please, somebody, make it into a movie!  Cute genetics professor with Asperger’s (not that he knows it ) can’t seem to keep a girlfriend, undertakes “wife project” to accomplish goal, meets wildly unsuitable woman (Rosie) who becomes his coach.  Of course she’s perfect for him, but there are many obstacles to overcome, all pretty self-generated.  It has all the factors that make up a hit rom-com!  Of course I adored it.  Best read in bubble bath with Dove candy bar broken into small pieces and a glass of red wine.  (Ooh, Google search says there’s both a movie AND a second book in the works.  Yay.)


Mea culpa. Back with Jack Reacher!

So, for anyone who has missed me:  A)  I’m sorry.  And B) I’m back!

I’m happy to be back  to blogging after a crazy few weeks.  Fortunately, I can report that while I was not reviewing, I was definitely reading, and there is a humongous stack of books on the “to review” list.

childI’ll start off with an easy one:  Lee Child’s new Jack Reacher novel, Never Go Back.  There’s no deficit of reviews out there.  In the Chicago Tribune, Michael Robbins is critical, but “swigs down” the latest Reacher anyway, all while positing that perhaps the time has come for Lee Child to move on to another protagonist.

Meanwhile, at the New York Times, Janet Maslin is an out-and-out fan.  She’s got a few nits to pick, sure, but mostly it’s about the ride.

So, in the spirit of full disclosure, I’m a Reacher fan.  One who has read every single Reacher novel and the few short stories I could find.  One of those people who got super-annoyed when Paramount cast Tom Cruise (Tom Cruise!) in the movie.  (Read more about that here.)  Seriously, Lee Child himself would have been a better choice.  Some of the books are better than others, but they’re all pretty much thumbs up in my book.  My husband, on the other hand, read a couple and then gave up on Jack Reacher.  He demands character development.

Needless to say, I liked Never Go Back.  I agree with every nit picked by both Michael Robbins and Janet Maslin, but that didn’t spoil it for me.  I buy that Reacher wins every fight he’s in, no matter how outnumbered or out-gunned.  I buy that almost every woman he meets is both attractive and romantically available.  I like his way of thinking and his way of talking.  I was even okay with the book where we were not sure at the end if Reacher was killed.  (Spoiler: no, he wasn’t.)  But I do think that Child cheated, big-time, with one of the plot threads.  It kinda bugged me.  I’ll say no more.

Child’s A Wanted Man a solid hit

In 1997, Putnam released The Killing Floor and Jack Reacher was born.  Sixteen books and 15 years later, Lee Child’s A Wanted Man is testament to the longevity of the “outsider” archetype.   The outsider – a mysterious, rootless man of imposing stature and exceptional skill – is common in literature and film.  Example?  He was brought to life by Clint Eastwood in the 1964 movie, A Fistful of Dollars.

The basic plot of a Reacher story, like all outsider stories, appears simple.  Reacher enters.  He has no connection to what is unfolding around him, but his presence changes the ultimate outcome.  There are bad people and there are good people and there is violence.  Reacher is touched by, but ultimately separate from, these events and those people.

A formula?  I suppose.  But compared to other “formula” authors, Lee Child has kept his Reacher novels fresh and exciting.  The varying locales, introduction of new characters, inventive and timely plots, and a willingness to let Reacher change – albeit very slowly – all work in his favor.

That being said, A Wanted Man is an excellent outing for Jack Reacher, a solid read for fans like me and a great opportunity for newbies (if there are any) to sample the series.

The story starts with Reacher hitchhiking across the midwest, on his way to Virginia.  Series fans will know why, others will wonder and then learn that he’s traveling cross-country to meet a woman he has only heard on the phone.  (Character growth for Reacher – he’s actually seeking something for himself here!)  He spends many hours, and about a third of the book, in a car with the three people who picked him up.  Pretenders all, it’s up to Reacher to decide who they really are, what they’re really doing, and how to stay alive.

On a parallel track is the story of FBI agent Julia Sorenson and her quest to solve the mystery of the man murdered in a concrete bunker out in the boonies.  He walked in with two others, they walked out… all that came out of man #3 was his blood, inching its way under the door.   The agent’s work is hampered by the disappearance of witnesses, the lack of cooperation from her own and other federal agencies.

No surprise that the two plots intersect. Reacher, Sorenson, and a third person I won’t name in order to avoid a spoiler, work together to solve the mystery.  The basic premise of the story, the unusually twisty nature of the plot and the secrets of the characters make A Wanted Man one of the best novels in the series.

Likes:  Reacher’s quest to reach Virginia, his physical limitations in this book, Julia Sorenson’s strong female character and the equally compelling Karen Delfuenso, the hint of a terrorist threat that is not overdone, and how the grit and determination of the characters plays out.  I also admire and enjoy Child’s way of establishing Reacher’s character through thoughts and action… he’s the king of showing not telling!

Dislikes:  None, really.  The bad guys are maybe not quite smart enough to be a worthy challenge for Reacher – I’d like to see him go up against a present-day Professor Moriarity.

Aside:  By now, most are aware that Tom Cruise has been cast to play Jack Reacher in an upcoming film adaptation of One Shot, which was an excellent book and number nine in the series.  (No surprise they didn’t pick an early book – Cruise is no spring chicken.)  The movie is titled Jack Reacher and is coming out at Christmas, which shows that Paramount is expecting a blockbuster.  I’ll go to see it, but I gotta say… Tom Cruise?  For 240-lb, 6’5″ rough-and-ready Reacher?  Fans are understandably dismayed.   What have they done, cast little people in all other roles?  Other actors I’d consider for Reacher include:

Liam Neeson – a little old, but he has the action movie cred and is 6’4″.  He’d need to lose that subtle accent he has, though.

Russell Crowe – only 5’11”, but he’s got the beat-up appearance, physicality, and he’s an awesome actor.

Joe Manganiello – he’s got all the physical attributes, plus he’s the right age AND he’s an emerging actor (classically trained!).  He may not have the box-office draw to open a Christmas movie in 2012, but he’d have the longevity to support the series through multiple movies.  Ah, what might have been.

Additional aside:  Lee Child himself kind of has the Reacher thing going on.