Lee Child’s tenth Reacher novel The Hard Way (2006) is a slow burner but nevertheless keeps you turning the pages, despite the faults, repetitions and flaws. It’s the voice, you know, it’s compelling.
Jack Reacher’s having a quiet cup of coffee when he notices a man get into a car. Next day, at the same coffee house he is questioned about what he saw. This leads him to meet the wealthy though probably deranged Lane whose wife and step-daughter have been kidnapped. Lane can call upon a good number of ex-Special Forces guys, but they’re making no headway. Maybe Reacher can help.
In his methodical manner, Reacher investigates. He finds that he has to do it the hard way, ‘start over at square one, re-examine everything, sweat the details, work the clues.’ (p129)
When he finally tracks down the kidnapper (searching New York, including Morton Street [fame at last?]), he realises too late that he has made a monumental mistake, which is kinda rare for this guy. The story moves from New York to old England.
Apart from a would-be thief getting a broken wrist, there’s not much action or violence until page 364 (397 pages in the book). Violence is spoken about, but it’s always second-hand, reported speech. One particular reported action is harrowing enough, so maybe it was as well to ‘tell’ rather than ‘show’ in this instance. If judged as a thriller, there’s too much talk and not enough action. And yet, and yet… You want to turn the page!
Reacher’s a hard man, but he possesses compassion. He can be passionate too. And violent when the cause demands it. There’s some humour, as well; I liked the phrasing here: ‘Up to the minute décor, a lot of minutes ago.’ (p252)
Repetition. This is overdone. Yes, sometimes it’s there to boost the tension, stretch the suspense. At other times, it just seems tedious. Take for example:
A guy: ‘You’re not wearing a watch.’
Reacher: ‘I always know what time it is.’ (p10)
‘You’re not wearing a watch,’ Lane said.
‘I always know what time it is.’ (p31)
This knack of Reacher’s, to always know what time it is, crops up often throughout.
Also, an explanation of ‘the hard way’ (see above) occurs again on p251, a mere 122 pages after the last one…
Annoying. ‘Reacher woke up and found himself all alone in the living room except for Carter Brown.’ (p65)
Now, he was either all alone or he wasn’t. Maybe: ‘Reacher woke. The only other occupant in the room was Carter Brown.’ That works.
Nothing wrong with this next piece, though it’s one of my personal bugbears which I try to avoid: ‘Then he went over it with Jackson. Jackson had a year’s worth of local knowledge which was less than Reacher would have liked, but it was better than nothing.’ (p357) Juxtaposing the name Jackson at the end of one sentence and then at the start of the next; I’d avoid. The second sentence could have worked like this: ‘Though less than Reacher would have liked, Jackson had a year’s worth of local knowledge, and it was better than nothing.’ [Plenty of other variants, I know…]
Unbelievable. Reacher is told that you can send written words by cell phone, and he didn’t know. This is 2006. I know Reacher does not possess a cell phone. But Reacher is an observant guy; so, he hasn’t seen people texting on their phones in the street, in the coffee shops? Don’t buy it.
‘… he was doing something he had never done in his life. He was buying clothes in a department store.’ (p272) I could believe he hadn’t done it for a long time, but find it hard to believe he’d never done it.
Reacher suggests staying in a low-profile London hotel, ‘where they don’t look at your passport and they let you pay cash.’ British hotels don’t require guests to show passports. Obviously they may require some kind of ID, but cash would, as suggested, obviate that.
Driving across flat Norfolk (‘probably the flattest in the British Isles ‘ (p357), Reacher observes a destination but sees far too much from the road, front and back door, etc., as if viewing from a higher vantage point. (p302)
‘…he started to pick up tiny imperceptible sounds…’ (p352). And yet imperceptible means ‘so slight, gradual, or subtle as not to be perceived.’ Barely perceptible would have worked here.