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Friday, 30 September 2016

Book review - Bad Luck and Trouble

Bad Luck and Trouble (2007) is the eleventh Jack Reacher novel from Lee Child, a publishing phenomenon. Night School, his twenty-first in the series is published this November.

Lee Child is one of the few modern authors to hit the best-seller list on each new release. His style and pace are geared to keep the reader turning the pages. A number of valid criticisms – lack of in-depth characterisation, over-use of clipped sentences, phrase repetition – have no effect on his legions of readers. He has tapped into the psyche of the modern readership – both female and male. He entertains. No mean feat, writing about the same guy year in year out.

In case you’ve been hiding under a rock or in a cave for almost twenty years, I’ll explain that ex-Army Military Policeman Jack Reacher is a wanderer, walking the streets and roadsides of North America, working when he needs money, but otherwise simply drifting. Under the radar. Off the grid. Helping unfortunates who need help. He’s tall, ‘two metres tall, a hundred and ten kilos, maybe a hundred and twenty’, a lot taller than Tom Cruise who plays him in two films, and all muscle, with ‘wrists as wide and hard as two-by-fours, hands like shovels’, and a shaved head. (The reference to metres instead of feet is from the point of view of a Middle Eastern villain).

Sometimes the Reacher books skip to the man’s past. Useful, that. Let’s be honest, the past has a habit of coming back to bite. At the wrong moment. This latest escapade begins when Frances Neagley, a member of his old Army unit, gets in touch in a rather outlandish way, and he answers the call. There may be a need to put the old unit back together again. Unfortunately, one of their number won’t be joining them, since his corpse was found in the desert. Tortured. Murdered. Dropped from a great height. And the rest are not answering the call. Something’s amiss. Badly awry.

One thing Reacher advocates – and respects – is loyalty. He’s loyal to his people. If they’re in trouble, he’ll plough through anything to get them out of it.

I’m not a great fan of Child’s choice of titles, and this book is no exception. ‘Because, second rule, learned from a lifetime of bad luck and trouble: maintain a little dignity.’ (p143) But I get it.

As a Brit author, Child is immersed in Americana, it seems. ‘… Huntington Drive, which Reacher was pretty sure had been a part of the old Route 66… Reacher started singing to himself, about getting his kicks…’ (It’s a while since I last read a Reacher book – One Shot, 2006 – but I don’t recall him singing to himself. Could be wrong. Reacher is rarely wrong.)

Neagley doesn’t much like physical contact, unless it’s to demolish an opponent.  She’s also not keen on the LAPD – ‘There are always scandals. It’s statistically difficult to quit the LAPD any other way.’ (p312) That won’t endear her to LAPD and ex-LAPD readers, I suspect. But her dislikes go further: ‘She’s human resources. It’s what they do.’ (Tell lies). (p322) Of course in this politically correct age, such generalisations can alienate; though doubtless draw cheers from those who have grievances! Incidentally, Neagley features in Night School, which is a flashback novel to their army days.

Much is made of Reacher’s skill with maths – square roots and all. Yes, the plot hinges on this aspect to a minor degree, but I found this tedious. The first two-thirds of the book present puzzles and a lengthy search for clues, but it’s the final third that delivers the pace and excitement we’ve come to expect. Delivered with aplomb. Spectacular. Lethal. Bad luck for the bad guys.

Not surprisingly, it’s reported that Transworld have announced a new contract with Lee Child for three more thrillers plus a volume of short stories and a novella, all featuring Jack Reacher. That’ll make it two dozen. Not bad. Clearly, he hasn’t over-reached himself yet.

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