Well, I was in the mood for a thriller novel. So, I thought that I’d take a look at a thriller novel that I’ve been meaning to read for a while. I am, of course, talking about Lee Child’s 2012 novel “A Wanted Man”.
If I remember rightly, this book was given to me by a relative who found it in a charity shop in about 2013-14 and thought that I might enjoy it. Although I’d planned to read it at the time, given that Lee Child novels were one of the few things that I still read during my 2014-18 “non reading” phase, it ended up sitting on top of one of my book piles for several years until I eventually noticed that it was one of the few Lee Child novels that I hadn’t read.
So, let’s take a look at “A Wanted Man”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.
The novel begins in rural Nebraska with a description of someone witnessing a couple of people entering a disused bunker and fleeing shortly afterwards after blood begins to pool around the door. The witness calls the local sheriff.
In another part of the state, ex-military police drifter Jack Reacher is trying to hitchhike. With his towering build and recently-broken nose, he doesn’t expect to have much luck. But, after an hour and a half, a car suddenly stops for him. The three passengers are wearing identical shirts and tell him that they are travelling to Chicago on business. There is a police roadblock up ahead.
Meanwhile, the local sheriff is surprised to see a FBI agent called Julia Sorensen turn up at the crime scene in the bunker. In addition to helping co-ordinate the search for the killers, it soon becomes obvious that the murdered man in the bunker was someone that the US security services have an interest in.
Back in the car, Reacher’s instincts from his days as a military policeman start to tell him that something doesn’t quite add up about the people he is hitching a ride with…..
One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is probably the best modern Lee Child novel that I’ve read. It has all of the rural desolation and careful suspense of something modern like Child’s “The Midnight Line” or “Make Me“, but with some scenes and elements that are more like classic 1990s-2000s Lee Child. It is the kind of gripping novel where, whenever I sat down to read it, I ended up reading about twice as many pages as I’d planned 🙂
I should probably start by talking about the novel’s thriller elements, which are excellent. This novel has a really brilliant progression from small-scale suspense, mystery, plot twists and action to much larger and dramatic examples of all four things. This is the kind of novel that initially seems a little bit understated for a thriller, but intrigues you enough to make you keep reading before rewarding you with a series of brilliant moments, set-pieces and twists.
All of these elements are handled really well, with the more dramatic car chases and gunfights later in the novel providing a brilliant payoff for the tense scenes of mystery and suspense earlier in the story.
Like a good detective story, this novel also carefully drip-feeds the reader with clues and solutions to parts of the story’s central mystery whilst still leaving enough mysterious to make them want to read more. Add to this a few surprising plot twists, a couple of fairly creative locations and more than a few hints of spy drama and this is a textbook example of how to write a truly gripping thriller.
Interestingly, despite the use of modern technology and both the desolate rural American setting and relative pacifism of some parts of the novel, there are some old-school elements here too.
In addition to a final segment that wouldn’t seem entirely out of place in either a mid-2000s episode of “24” or a 1980s/90s action movie, some parts of this novel feel like they could have come from a hardboiled US thriller from the 1940s-50s too. Whether it is the constant suspense of the earlier scenes set in the car or the dystopian creativity of the motel-based scenes, this novel feels like a really cool updated version of an older thriller at times.
In terms of the writing, this novel is really good. Although Lee Child’s third-person narration is the kind of expertly-honed “matter of fact” narration you’d expect from one of his thriller novels, this novel was also a lot more descriptive than I’d expected too. Since these descriptions, of locations, thoughts etc… are written in a fast-paced way and/or are carefully placed in locations where they will have the maximum effect, they really help to add a lot of atmosphere to the story without slowing down the pace too much.
As for the characters, they’re fairly well-written. Jack Reacher is the ex-military hero that we all know and love although, in this novel, he has a fascination with maths and number puzzles. Even so, he’s kind of an interesting middle ground between the action hero he was in Child’s older novels and the more considered pacifist he becomes in “The Midnight Line”.
Likewise, the rest of the characters are all well-written enough for the reader to know who they are and to care about what happens to them, whilst also often having enough backstory and hidden depths to be interesting too.
As for length and pacing, this novel is fairly good too, At 524 pages in length, it is a little on the longer side of things but the pacing compensates for this. As mentioned earlier, this novel has a really good progression from small-scale to large-scale drama and this is backed up by a fast-paced writing style, some really compelling mysteries and lots of carefully-placed clues and plot twists. This novel is, in a word, gripping. It is the kind of novel where you’ll end up reading at least twice as much as you plan to every time you decide to take a look at it.
All in all, this is an incredibly gripping novel that is a textbook example of thriller fiction at it’s best. It is a brilliant blend of older and more modern thriller fiction that contains a perfectly-engineered mixture of everything that makes thriller fiction such compelling fun to read 🙂
If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a five.