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Wednesday, 30 January 2019

Book appraisal - MAKE ME

Lee Child’s twentieth Jack Reacher novel Make Me (2015) offers more of what his millions of readers have come to expect.

It begins with the clandestine burial of a guy called Keever, which is momentarily disturbed by the passing of a delayed night train, which is significant…

Reacher has dropped off at a one-horse town called Mother’s Rest. He’s merely curious how the place got its name, so stopped for an overnight stay to find out; he doesn’t get to know until p491; in the meantime, he meets retired FBI special agent Michelle Chang and learns she’s now running a private investigation business and is the backup called in by her associated Keever...

The pair hit it off and Reacher becomes intrigued by the apparent disappearance of Keever.
Their enquiries seem to upset some locals who object to their presence. Reacher’s first set-piece of violence (p92) deters two of them effectively. Chang and Reacher’s investigation takes them beyond the town (to Oklahoma City, Los Angeles and Chicago) and delves into the unpleasant depths of the internet, where lurks the dark side of human nature.

The pace begins in a leisurely fashion and gradually picks up until the set-piece denouement.

Child has a legion of fans because he writes page-turning stories that pull you in, and this book is no exception. It’s a fast read.

Many fellow writers are not fans of his books – for a number of reasons, not least perhaps because he isn’t ‘literary’ and uses simple vocabulary. [Reacher went and took a shower’ (p68)]. He’s not averse to repeating words in the same paragraph or page. He describes at great length places and buildings that have very little relevance to the storyline or scenes in the plot.

His book titles are often quite odd, too: Make Me is a good example. The only place I found those words was on p54: ‘Plus he calibrated it to make me younger than I am.’ The words may have popped up elsewhere. The meaning can be either ‘force me, if you can’ or ‘you have identified me’ – perhaps!

He’s good at dialogue. There can be pages of it, and not that many cues to signify who is speaking because it’s obvious in the context of what is being said.  When he does employ a speech attribution it is mostly ‘he said’ – Reacher paused a beat and said, ‘Who exactly are you?’ Or: Reacher said, ‘That’s you?’  Occasionally, he varies this: ‘Interesting,’ Reacher said. He doesn’t bother with alternatives to ‘said’ and it works just fine for him and, clearly, his readers.

He injects humour. ‘It’s going to be like picking a lock with spaghetti.’ (p162)

He doesn’t use f-words, settling for ‘bullshit’ most of the time. By doing this he probably alienates some readers who prefer more ‘realism’; yet this is fiction and escapism, so these thrillers don’t have to employ gutter language to strengthen the story. Indeed, he probably gains readership because he doesn’t have his characters ‘effing’ at all and sundry.

He’s good at confrontation and fight scenes. Tension is raised and details are dispensed for what might take only a few seconds but in slow-time seem longer as the words pour out. It is remarkable what can pass in the mind in a fraction of a second at heightened awareness, and he manages to convey this very efficiently on several occasions. Adam Hall’s secret agent Quiller would treat combat in a similar analytical vein.

He’s a master at cranking up the tension in a scene:
‘I’m getting impatient here.’
Wet lips.
Moving eyes.
No response.
Then Reacher… (pp334/335) Very filmic.

So, whatever Child’s perceived faults, his phenomenal success suggests that he has captured that elusive readability trait other writers hanker after.  

Editorial comment

More than once Child writes: ‘Reacher said nothing.’ (for example, pp291, 353 and 407). Sometimes other characters get the same line. Interestingly, there’s a book entitled Reacher Said Nothing by Andy Martin, which looks over Child’s shoulder while he writes Make Me. (It’s now only available second-hand on Amazon, and at silly prices too!)

An observation is made when a magazine is found with a bookmark at the front of an article. Reacher’s assumption is that the magazine owner hasn’t read the article yet. (p108). This doesn’t necessarily hold up: the marker could be there for future reference, the piece having already been read.

A number of significant if minor characters don’t have names. They’re ‘the one-eyed guy’, ‘the Moynahan who had gotten kicked in the balls’, ‘the spare parts guy from the irrigation store’, ‘the counterman’, ‘the hog farmer’, ‘the guy from Palo Alto’ and ‘the man with the ironed jeans and the blow-dried hair’ – the latter is sometimes shortened to ‘the man with the jeans and the hair’. The repetition of these ‘names’ becomes tedious, though they’re probably easier for the reader to identify rather than a single name. I appreciate the predicament; multiple characters with names can become confusing. Sometimes you can identify a bit-player by their description, which I’ve done before: One-eye, Spare-parts, Blow-dry, maybe. One of the most overused words in the novel is ‘guy’; it grates.  

‘Mrs Eleanor Hopkins, widow, previously a wife and a laboratory researcher…’ (p271) Well, yes, she would be a wife previously if she’s now a widow…

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