Review: “The Affair” By Lee Child (Novel)

Well, although I’d planned to review another hardboiled sci-fi novel next, the one I’d chosen didn’t seem to be anywhere near as good as I’d hoped it would be – and I ended up abandoning it after about ten pages. So, I needed to read another novel, a better novel. Quick!

And, since I was still in the mood for thriller fiction, I thought that it’d be the perfect time to take a look at one of the few Lee Child novels I hadn’t read before. I am, of course, talking about Lee Child’s 2011 novel “The Affair” (which I’ve been meaning to read ever since a family member gave me a copy of it several years ago).

Although this novel is both a prequel and part of a large series, it is – like almost every Lee Child novel – designed be read as a stand-alone novel. So, you can enjoy it if you haven’t read any other “Jack Reacher” novels before this one. But, if you have, then there might be a few familiar names and references that you’ll enjoy.

So, let’s take a look at “The Affair”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2011 Bantam (UK) paperback edition of “The Affair” that I read.

The novel begins on the 11th March 1997, with a US military policeman called Jack Reacher arriving at the Pentagon for a meeting with a colonel called Frazer. As he goes through security, he expects to be arrested. No-one arrests him. But, as he heads towards Frazer’s office, he’s certain that there is a team of people following him. He has expected something like this. But, no-one follows him and he arrives at the office ten minutes late. Frazer asks Reacher for the name of the suspect he has found.

Reacher says that he has nothing. That the meeting was nothing but an elaborate ruse to draw the culprit out into the open. That he’d hoped someone would have tried to make a move against him before he arrived. Frazer asks if he’s a suspect. Reacher lies about the answer. Frazer laughs and points out that Reacher looks a bit dishevelled. Reacher says that he is supposed to look like this.

Then we flash back to five days earlier. Reacher has been summoned by his CO, Leon Garber, who criticises him for not meeting uniform regulations before pointing out that his scruffy hair is probably a good thing. A woman called Janice May Chapman has been murdered in a small town in Mississipi called Carter Crossing, a small town with a large army ranger base nearby. Although Reacher expects to be lead investigator on the case, the job goes to another officer called Munro.

Reacher’s role in the case is to enter the town undercover and keep tabs on the local police, in the hope of pre-empting or averting any kind of army-related scandal before it happens. So, he hitchhikes to the town, but the local sheriff – Elizabeth Devereaux – is a former military police officer and guesses why he’s there shortly after meeting him. Still, with only two deputies – and no trained detectives- in the town, she reluctantly agrees to let him help her investigate the case…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that this is a really compelling historical detective novel, with some thriller elements too. In other words, it’s probably closer in style to one of the more understated modern Reacher novels, like “The Midnight Line“, rather than the older novels in the series. And, as long as you don’t expect an action-fest or anything like that, then there’s a rather gripping mystery to be enjoyed here.

So, I’ll start by talking about the novel’s detective elements. This novel is a bit like a blend between a thriller, a police procedural and a hardboiled novel. Not only does the case quickly expand in size and scope, but there are a good variety of investigative elements too – including examining physical evidence, making deductions from clues, interviewing people and coming up with several clever ruses and schemes to catch the criminal.

In addition to one or two smaller side-mysteries, another thing that really helps to keep the story’s detective elements compelling is the fact that – right up until the late parts of the book – the reader is never entirely sure which one of the two main suspects are guilty, thanks to lots of red herrings and contradictory pieces of evidence (all of which are, of course, explained later). So, it’s one of those stories that will keep you guessing πŸ™‚

Plus, there are also a few hardboiled elements too. Whether it is a clever twist on the idea of a “femme fatale” character, the fact that Reacher is a semi-official investigator (who is breaking orders and technically doesn’t have jurisdiction) or the fact that – instead of arresting anyone – he unflinchingly metes out rough justice to anyone he finds to be guilty of a serious crime, this novel definitely takes a few hints from the classic American crime fiction of the 1920s-50s. Even so, it isn’t really a “film noir” story.

As for the novel’s thriller elements, they’re fairly compelling too πŸ™‚ In addition to a larger-scale sub-plot about Reacher trying to deal with a possible military cover-up, the novel also includes quite a few suspenseful moments and even a couple of fight scenes too. Still, this novel is more of a traditional-style crime/suspense thriller than the kind of action-thriller novel you’d traditionally expect from Lee Child. But, thanks to things like shorter chapters and a fast-paced writing style, this novel moves along as quickly as you’d expect from a modern thriller novel πŸ™‚

The novel’s historical elements are a bit of a mixed bag though. When they are at their best, they reminded me of other modern 1990s-based crime/suspense novels (such as Laura Lippman’s excellent “Sunburn) which keep their 1990s setting fairly understated – with only the absence of things like smartphones etc.. – helping to create the historical atmosphere. This helps to lend the story a feeling of realism, in addition to allowing for more suspense too (thanks to the lack of modern technology etc…).

However, unlike many modern 1990s-set novels, there are a few moments where Reacher “breaks the fourth wall” and talks directly about the 1990s in the past tense, as if he was re-telling the story in the present day. Although these moments help to clarify the historical setting, they will probably break your immersion in the story slightly at the same time. Yes, the idea of an older Reacher reminiscing about his younger days is an interesting narrative device, but this puts a certain amount of distance between the reader and the story.

As for the characters, they’re really good πŸ™‚ Although you shouldn’t expect ultra-deep characterisation, there is enough here to make you care about the characters. Not only is it really interesting to see a slightly younger version of Reacher (and one or two other long-running characters too), but Elizabeth is also a fairly complex and interesting character too.

The relationship between Reacher and Elizabeth is quite well-handled, and it manages to be both realistic and stylised at the same time (not to mention that, for a Reacher novel, it is probably one of the steamier books in the series too). Plus, the US military – with all of it’s foibles, rivalries, contradictions and complexities – is also pretty much a main character in this novel too.

In terms of the writing, it is really good too πŸ™‚ Like with a couple of other Reacher novels, this one is written from a first-person perspective – which allows for a bit of extra characterisation and suspense. And, although Reacher’s occasional asides about the 1990s can be a little immersion-breaking, I cannot fault the actual writing itself. If you’ve ever read a Lee Child novel, then you’ll know that he’s an expert at writing fast-paced, precisely-engineered and streamlined narration that is kind of like a modern version of the hardboiled fiction of the 1920s-50s, and this novel is no exception πŸ™‚

As for length and pacing, this novel is fairly good. The edition I read (which had slightly larger pages) was 427 pages long, and this length seemed to be a good fit for the story. Although this isn’t the fastest-paced Reacher novel I’ve read, the story still moves along at a fairly decent pace – with lots of well-placed plot twists, mini-cliffhangers and suspenseful moments that help to keep everything compelling. Another cool thing about this novel’s pacing is the TV-style “cold open” scene, which adds instant intrigue to the story by giving the reader a tantalising glimpse of events that happen about three-quarters of the way through the novel.

All in all, this is a really good detective novel that also contains some gripping thriller elements too. Although I’d have liked to have seen more of an action-thriller story, this novel was still very enjoyable to read – with a (mostly) well-handled historical setting and a good mixture between investigation and suspense.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a four.

Review: “A Wanted Man” By Lee Child (Novel)

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.

This is the 2013 Bantam (UK) paperback edition of “A Wanted Man” that I read.

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 πŸ™‚

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 πŸ™‚

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a five.

Review: “Make Me” By Lee Child (Novel)

Well, although I’d originally planned to read a noir cyberpunk novel, the weather had become so hot that I needed to read something a bit more fast-paced instead. So, after looking through my “to read” pile, I found a copy of Lee Child’s 2015 novel “Make Me” that a relative had found in a charity shop several years ago and thought that I might enjoy.

So, let’s take a look at “Make Me”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS. I’ll avoid spoiling the exact details of the ending, but expect spoilers about the style and genre of the ending.

This is the 2015 Bantam Press (UK) hardback edition of “Make Me” that I read.

The novel begins at night in a farming town in Oklahoma called Mother’s Rest. In a field outside of town, a group of people are burying a dead man called Keever. However, before they can finish their grim task, a train whooshes past the field.

A wandering ex-military policeman called Jack Reacher decides to get off of the train at Mother’s Rest because he is intrigued by the town’s unusual name. However, no sooner has he set foot on the platform, he is accosted by a mysterious woman who initially mistakes him for someone else. After they go their separate ways, Reacher decides to spend the night in the town’s only motel. Little does he know, someone is watching him….

The next morning, he stops off in the local diner for coffee and meets the woman from the train station again. She’s an ex-FBI private detective called Michelle Chang who has travelled to the town after her colleague, Keever, requested urgent backup. Apparently, Keever was going to explain his current case to her when they met, but he hasn’t shown up in town. So, Reacher decides to help her investigate…..

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is a brilliantly suspenseful thriller novel that is also a surprisingly effective horror novel in disguise πŸ™‚

Although the novel certainly contains some dramatic action-thriller elements, this is one of those ultra-suspenseful stories where you’ll keep reading because you want to find out what is really going on. And when you do find out the horrifying truth, you’ll wish that you hadn’t…

The novel’s suspense elements are absolutely brilliant! In addition to an intriguingly ominous mystery, the story also makes use of suspense in all sorts of other clever ways too.

Whether it is the segments showing the bad guys spying on the main characters, the way that a news report plays in the background of one scene, the fact that both sides plan their dramatic final showdown very carefully or even how the fight scenes will sometimes contain long descriptions of gun mechanisms in order to ramp up the tension before a shot is fired, this novel is saturated with suspense and it works really well πŸ™‚

Even though this novel is much more of a suspense thriller than an action thriller, there are still some dramatic fight scenes. These are spread out carefully throughout the novel, so that they seem extra dramatic in contrast to the more understated scenes beforehand. If you’ve read a Lee Child novel before, you’ll know that he’s an expert at writing fight scenes and this story is no exception.

Plus, unlike in Child’s “The Midnight Line“, Reacher certainly isn’t a pacifist in this story. Likewise, he actually suffers a concussion at one point, which makes some of the later fight scenes even more suspenseful (since he’s also fighting the effects of the concussion too).

To my surprise, this novel also contains some really well-written horror elements too πŸ™‚ This is a story that gets more horrific as it goes along, going from ominous to creepy to disturbing to full-on horror in a way that you won’t see coming until it is too late.

Although a lot of the most grisly elements of the story’s shocking final twist are left to the reader’s imagination (since this is a thriller novel, rather than a splatterpunk novel) this story delivers a devastatingly disturbing dose of horror that can really catch you off-guard.

Likewise, all of this horror is complemented by a deliberately unsettling tone throughout the story. Whether it is the fact that the main characters are being watched, the mysterious nature of the mystery they’re trying to solve or even some lengthy discussions of some fairly dark subject matter, this novel sets up it’s shocking final moments of horror absolutely perfectly. Or, more accurately, it fools you into thinking that you’re reading an ordinary suspense thriller story until it is too late…..

In terms of the characters, they’re reasonably good. Although there isn’t a gigantic amount of ultra-deep characterisation, there is enough characterisation here to make you care about the main characters and for the slightly understated romantic sub-plot between Reacher and Chang to work fairly well. Surprisingly, the most dramatic characters in this novel are probably a few of the villains, who are probably some of the most chillingly evil villains that I’ve ever seen in a novel.

In terms of the writing, this novel’s third-person narration is really well-written. The narration is “matter of fact” enough to keep the story grippingly fast-paced, but isn’t afraid to pause for more complex descriptions when the story requires it. In other words, if you’ve read Lee Child novels before, then you’ll probably be quite familiar with the writing style here.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is fairly good. Although this novel is a slightly lengthy 421 pages long, this is counterbalanced by the fact that this is one of those compelling stories that you’ll probably want to binge-read fairly quickly.

Plus, although this fast-paced thriller isn’t always quite as fast-paced as you would expect, this allows the story to build suspense and to make the even faster-paced moments stand out even more in contrast.

All in all, this is a brilliantly compelling thriller novel that is also a horror novel in disguise πŸ™‚ It makes expert use of suspense, plot twists and all of that kind of stuff and it is the kind of story that is difficult to put down once you’ve started reading it.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get at least four and a half.

Review: “Personal” By Lee Child (Novel)

Well, although I hadn’t planned to read another Lee Child novel so soon after reading “The Midnight Line” two or three weeks ago, the weather was still fairly hot and – as such- I needed something relaxing, gripping and just generally fun to read.

So, I thought that I’d check out Lee Child’s 2014 novel “Personal” today. This is a book that I’ve been meaning to read ever since a relative found an American hardback edition of it in a charity shop in Salisbury a couple of years ago and thought that I might be interested in it.

So, let’s take a look at “Personal”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2014 Delacorte Press (US) hardback edition of “Personal” that I read.

The novel begins with wandering ex-military policeman Jack Reacher sitting on a bus that is travelling to Seattle. Since the bus travels near a military base, a soldier ends up leaving a copy of Army Times behind. Out of professional curiosity, Reacher decides to take a look at it… and finds his own name in the personal ads segment. The US military wants him to call them.

After getting off the bus in Seattle, Reacher calls the military and he is quickly flown to a top secret part of Fort Bragg. A sniper has threatened the French President and the international intelligence community has narrowed the suspects down to four possible people. One of whom is a man that Reacher arrested for murder sixteen years earlier. Needless to say, Reacher agrees to help out with the case….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that this is a thriller novel. It contains an absolutely brilliant mixture of spy drama, crime drama, suspense, action and detective work. Although the earlier parts of the story tend to focus more on suspense and detective work, the story becomes even more dramatic and gripping as it progresses.

Seriously, this novel gets the balance between these different sub-genres of thriller fiction fairly right, meaning that the story remains fairly consistently gripping throughout since Lee Child can just switch from sub-genre to sub-genre in order to add variety without slowing the pacing down too much.

In addition to this, the novel is also a little bit like a “greatest hits” compilation of what I can remember of Child’s older novels too. There’s a sniper-based storyline (like in “One Shot”), there’s a segment set in Britain (like in “The Hard Way”) and there’s a gang/crime theme too (like in “Persuader”).

Although most of the novel’s detective elements happen during the earlier parts of the story, there are several cool moments throughout the story where Reacher makes Sherlock Holmes-style deductions about various things. Plus, not only is Reacher referred to as “Sherlock Homeless” a couple of times (which always made me think of the “Viz” cartoon of the same name) but there’s even a vague reference to the BBC’s “Sherlock” TV show, when Reacher “calls the police” in London by firing a gun several times (like in “A Scandal In Belgravia).

The novel’s spy thriller elements are also pretty interesting and they lend the story a murky, secretive and ambiguous atmosphere which helps to increase the feelings of suspense – especially when contrasted with the equally murky world of organised crime.

Even so, there are a few inconsistencies with the novel’s spy elements. For example, when Reacher arrives in London, it is made very clear that he’s there unofficially (and that it would cause an international incident if MI5 found out about it). Yet, when he later gets spotted by a British agent that he met earlier in the story, they just team up and MI5 is totally cool with it (even offering help and support to Reacher at various points in the story).

This novel is also a fairly decent action-thriller novel, with very little of the pacifism that can be found in Child’s “The Midnight Line”. Although this does give parts of the novel a slightly vigilante-like tone, it also allows for a fair number of dramatic, fast-paced and impactful fight scenes – which are often also paired with suspenseful elements (eg: time limits, worries about stray bullets, Reacher meeting a well-matched adversary etc..) to help keep the reader on the edge of their seat.

In terms of the characters – whilst you shouldn’t expect ultra-deep characterisation, there’s enough characterisation here. Not only does Reacher get a fairly decent amount of characterisation, but several members of the supporting cast do too.

On the other hand, the novel’s villains (eg: the evil sniper, the gangsters from Romford etc...) are a little bit on the cartoonish side of things – although this is done in a way that makes them feel extra menacing, so it isn’t an entirely bad thing.

In terms of the writing, this novel is as good and fast-paced as ever. Plus, unlike some of Lee Child’s novels, this one is narrated by Reacher himself. This lends the story an even greater degree of focus, suspense and character. It also helps to add a sense of vulnerability to the story, since we only see and know what Reacher does.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is fairly good. The hardback edition I read was a relatively efficient 353 pages long, although this may be due to the slightly larger page size. Even so, the length is fairly comparable to other Lee Child novels, with the suspense and pacing making sure that the novel never feels too long. Likewise, as you would expect from a Lee Child novel, the pacing is reasonably fast too. However, this novel starts out in a slightly slower and more suspenseful way before becoming more fast-paced later in the story.

All in all, this is a really good thriller novel. It’s an intriguing blend of the spy thriller, crime thriller, action-thriller and detective genres πŸ™‚ Whilst it doesn’t do anything especially new or innovative, it’s still a brilliantly gripping novel that was a lot of fun to read.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get at least four.

Review: “The Midnight Line” By Lee Child (Novel)

Well, I hadn’t planned to read a Lee Child novel (the last one I read was in 2017, when I wasn’t reading much) but, after reading a fairly slow-paced novel recently, I wanted something relaxing, gripping and refreshingly fast-paced.

Out of instinct, I’d bought a copy of Child’s 2017 novel “The Midnight Line” in a charity shop in Petersfield last year when I realised that it was a Lee Child novel I hadn’t even heard of before. So, this seemed like a good time to read it.

So, let’s take a look at “The Midnight Line”. Needless to say, this review may contain some mild-moderate SPOILERS.

This is the 2018 Bantam (UK) “Richard & Judy’s Book Club” paperback edition of “The Midnight Line” that I read.

The novel starts with an ex-military policeman Jack Reacher in Milwaukee. His lover has just left him after three days together and Reacher decides to deal with this by continuing his travels. So, he gets on a bus that is heading for a small town near Lake Superior.

But, on the way, the bus stops off for a rest stop at a small town. Reacher wanders around the town and ends up in the local pawn shop. He spots a ring. It is a graduation ring from the prestigious West Point US military academy that is inscribed with the initials “S. R. S” . Soldiers don’t usually sell things like that. So, after buying the ring, Reacher stays in town and decides to track down the owner….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that I’d forgotten how good Lee Child novels are. Yes, even though this one doesn’t quite live up to the standards of some of Child’s older novels (eg: “Gone Tomorrow”, “The Hard Way”, “Persuader”, “Tripwire” etc..) – it’s still the kind of gripping, incredibly readable, precisely-written thriller novel that is as compellingly relaxing as a good DVD boxset. Or, to put it another way, even a “low-budget” Lee Child novel is still considerably better than most books by many other thriller authors.

For the most part, this novel is actually more of a detective thriller novel than an action-thriller novel. Seriously, there are only about four or five short fight scenes in the entire book – with at least a few other moments where Reacher actually solves problems in a non-violent way. Surprisingly, this actually adds some extra realism (and unpredictability) to the novel, in addition to placing emphasis on the detective elements of the story too.

And, for the most part, these work fairly well – with Reacher and several other detectives (eg: a cop, a P.I. and a federal agent) investigating the mysterious case in different ways and for different reasons. However, a lot of the story’s gripping suspense is lost when Reacher meets the ring’s owner about two-thirds of the way through the novel. After that, the novel turns into slightly more of a conventional crime thriller/action-thriller novel – which is good, although it isn’t quite as good as the compelling mystery of the scenes where Reacher is trying to find out about who owns the ring.

Even so, these crime thriller/action-thriller scenes later in the book still remain reasonably compelling, thanks to a well-placed set piece and a rather clever, if unconventional, plot device involving a character with a dwindling supply of narcotics. However, Reacher’s final showdown with the novel’s main villain is surprisingly brief, anti-climactic and understated (with the most dramatic part of the scene also being little more than an implied background detail too).

Likewise, given that the crime thriller elements of the novel revolve around the drug trade, this allows Lee Child to explore how the opioid epidemic has affected rural America. This element of the book is handled surprisingly well, with Child’s ire about the situation quite rightly directed towards pharmaceutical companies and organised crime gangs, instead of their victims (who are presented in a fairly compassionate way).

In terms of the settings, most of this novel takes place in a small town and in various remote areas of Wyoming. Although this rural remoteness adds some mystery and menace to a few scenes in the novel, it does tend to get a little bit dull after a while. Even so, the plot still helps to keep everything interesting – especially during the parts where Reacher is trying to track down the ring’s owner.

As for the characters, they’re reasonably good. Jack Reacher is, well, Jack Reacher – he’s the same intelligent, tall and courageous wandering ex-military policeman as usual (although he’s a little bit more of a pacifist, relatively speaking, in this novel). The other characters are also pretty interesting, with most of them having distinctive quirks, motivations and flaws. However, the novel’s main villain doesn’t quite get enough characterisation though. Although the characterisation in this novel is very slightly on the minimalist side of things, it still works reasonably well and you’ll find yourself caring about what happens to the characters.

One interesting element of this novel is how all of the various detectives etc… interact with each other. Unlike in some of Lee Child’s other novels, Reacher seems to be on incredibly good terms with the police in this novel – with his old military credentials (and the business that the villains are in) basically meaning that the police everywhere he goes end up siding with him, helping him out and/or looking the other way when he breaks the rules. I’m not sure if this is realistic or not, but it works reasonably well – although it slightly lessens the suspense in some parts of the novel.

As for the writing, Lee Child’s third-person narration is the kind of precise, fast-paced, “matter of fact” narration that you would expect. As thriller novels go, Lee Child’s are some of the most well-written ones that I’ve read and this novel is no exception. The writing never patronises the reader, yet this is the kind of novel which can still be read easily when you’re really tired and/or the weather is annoyingly hot, which is quite an achievement on Lee Child’s part.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is fairly good. Although it’s about 450 pages long, this is the kind of novel which will take you less time to read than some 300 page books will. In other words, the story is reasonably fast-paced throughout. Seriously, even in the scenes where nothing much happens, the novel still remains pretty gripping.

All in all, whilst this certainly isn’t the best Lee Child novel I’ve read, it’s still an incredibly gripping and compelling novel. Yes, it’s more of a detective thriller novel than an action-thriller novel, but this works surprisingly well. But, if the Jack Reacher novels were a TV show, this one would probably be a low-budget bottle episode. Even so, it’s still one of the better non-sci fi/non-urban fantasy/ non-horror thriller novels I’ve read since I got back into reading regularly a few months ago.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get at least a four.

Review “Night School” By Lee Child (Novel)

Well, it has been way too long since I last reviewed a novel (novel reviews will become a regular feature late this year/early next year though). And, I hadn’t planned to review one today – but, after spending about five and a half hours binge-reading a second-hand charity shop copy of “Night School” by Lee Child, it felt appropriate to review it too.

This review will contain some PLOT SPOILERS, but I’ll try to avoid major ones.

This is the 2016 UK Bantam Press hardback edition of “Night School” that I read.

“Night School” is a novel from 2016 that is the 21st thriller in Lee Child’s famous “Jack Reacher” series. Like in the other novels in this series that I’ve read, “Night School” tells a self-contained story that doesn’t really require any knowledge of other novels in the series.

The story is something of a prequel to many of the other novels, with the events of the story taking place in 1996. Jack Reacher is an American military policeman who has recently been awarded a medal for a covert mission in Eastern Europe.

He’s on the up and up, and there’s a lot of military gossip about his next assignment. But, when Reacher is summoned to the Pentagon, he learns that he’s been… assigned to take a training course in forensics and inter-agency co-operation.

Of course, when he arrives at the facility, there are only two other students. A highly-commended member of the FBI and an outstanding member of the CIA. Between the three of them, they quickly realise that they aren’t there to study inter-agency co-operation or forensics……

One of the very first things that I will say about this novel is that about the first two-thirds or so of it are better than the later parts. Like any good thriller, the novel starts out in a mysteriously exciting fashion.

In some ways, the beginning and middle of “Night School” are reminiscent of an American TV show like “24” or “NCIS” and, in other ways, these parts of the story are more like a classic modern European thriller (like a more fast-paced version of Stieg Larsson’s “The Girl Who Played With Fire”).

Yet, during the later parts of the story, there’s less suspense. The plot twists seem predictable, hollow and clichΓ©d. The ending also seems somewhat anticlimactic. So, this is a story that is more about the journey than the destination. Everything leading up to the later parts of the story is fast-paced, complex, mysterious and thrilling (enough to warrant a marathon binge-reading session). Yet, the story gradually starts losing dramatic value as it progresses.

From what I’d heard about “Night School” before I read it, I expected it to be more of an “action movie”-style novel. But, it is very much a traditional-style thriller. Yes, there are suspenseful chases and a small number of well-written fight scenes (eg: a 2-3 page description of part of a fight that only lasts a few seconds). But, this is more like a cross between a spy novel, a political thriller and a detective novel than an action thriller novel.

A lot of the story includes several parallel narratives involving various agents, detectives and criminals. For example, there are scenes where the novel’s main antagonist is a few hundred metres away from the main characters, and neither of them realises it. Like in many good thriller novels, these scenes are interweaved in all sorts of cool ways.

One cool thing about this novel is that Reacher’s old colleague Frances Neagley makes an appearance here. Although I’ve read at least one novel featuring Neagley (“Bad Luck and Trouble” in 2009/10), I couldn’t remember a huge amount about that novel. Still, the name and the character were instantly familiar to me.

As for the characters, they’re adequate and functional. Jack Reacher is mostly (more on this later) still the smart, stoic hero that we all know and love. Yet, the main characters sometimes seem slightly “flat”. Likewise, even the novel’s romantic sub-plot feels somewhat random and slightly passionless. Surprisingly, the most well-developed characters in this novel are the main antagonist and a German detective called Griezman (who helps Reacher out throughout the story).

However, and this might be because of the 1990s setting or the fact that Jack Reacher is younger in this book, but he’s a little bit more aggressive than usual in this novel. What I mean by this is he’s slightly more likely to kill or attack people for reasons other than self-defence. Like an “edgy” 90s action hero, a couple of these scenes are also accompanied by pithy dialogue too. Although this stuff seems very mildly out of character for Reacher, some elements of this change in his character are foreshadowed in a very early part of the novel.

As usual, Lee Child uses a fairly fast-paced and minimalist narrative style, peppered with occasional descriptions. And, as gripping as it is here, it didn’t quite seem to have the same substance as some of his other novels. The narrative style seems a little too minimalist in some parts. Even so, it keeps the plot travelling forwards at a suitably fast pace, which is never a bad thing.

The novel’s mid-1990s setting is also handled in a fairly interesting way too. For the most part, the novel reads like a fairly “timeless” thriller story, with relatively little 1990s nostalgia (eg: there are some references to the Millennium bug and the end of the cold war. Likewise, there isn’t a mobile phone in sight either. But, aside from this, it could almost be set in the present day).

Yet, the mid-1990s setting also has a noticeable effect on the plot, with the story drawing on both the more imaginative/silly traditions of the 90s thriller genre (between the end of the cold war and 9/11, thriller writers had to be a bit more imaginative since they couldn’t just rely on popular fears for source material) and more “serious” contemporary concerns about extremism and terrorism too. Seriously, Lee Child absolutely nails the “mid-late 90s thriller” elements of the story perfectly.

This slight hint of 1990s silliness, along with some witty descriptions/dialogue and a hilariously gross scene set in a nightclub also help to lighten the tone of the story slightly too, which is never a bad thing. Although “Night School” is a suspenseful thriller novel, with some slightly “gritty” crime-based segments, it never really becomes bleak or depressing.

The rest of the novel’s settings are handled in a fairly interesting way too. Most of the story takes place in Hamburg, and this city is described in a fairly minimalist way – which helps it to seem “modern” and “realistic”. Yet, the city also seems slightly drab and generic too – which is both a strength and a weakness.

By making the city blend into the background slightly, Lee Child is able to focus our attentions more on the events of the story. Yet, the fact that it takes place in a version of Germany shown from the perspective of an American character imagined by one of Britain’s bestselling authors kind of means that the setting often comes across as more “generic European” than anything else. Lee Child is an expert at writing American settings, but mainland Europe really doesn’t seem to be his forte.

All in all, this isn’t Lee Child’s best novel, but it’s hardly a bad novel either. I mean, it was still compelling enough to binge-read in one marathon session. Yes, the beginning is better than the ending. Yes, this story is much more about the journey than the destination. But, it’s still a fairly well-written thriller novel. Not to mention that it’s kind of cool to see a vaguely 1990s-style thriller from 2016.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get three and a half.

Review: “Never Go Back” By Lee Child (Thriller Novel)

2014 Artwork Never Look Back Review Sketch

Well, it’s been a while since I last read a Lee Child novel. So, when someone lent me a copy of “Never Go Back”, it went straight to the top of my ‘to read’ list.

A couple of days later, I read the whole thing in one single sleep-deprived night.

Ok, it isn’t Lee Child’s best novel, but it’s hardly his worst either. Or, to put it another way, it’s good enough that you’ll probably want to read the whole thing in one sitting.

As with all of Lee Child’s novels, “Never Go Back” follows Jack Reacher – an ex-military policeman who wanders around America and almost always seems to end up in the middle of some mystery or other.

In “Never Go Back”, not only does Reacher find himself formally accused of manslaughter (due to an old case he worked on during his military police days), but he has also been drafted/recalled back into the army in order to allow the new temporary commander of his old military police unit (Colonel Morgan) to charge him with the crime.

Plus, on top of all of this, the officer who should have been in charge of his old unit (Major Susan Turner) appears to be missing…..

I probably haven’t done the novel justice in this short summary, but it’s a lot more thrilling and dramatic than it sounds. Well, after the first hundred pages or so, at least….

It may be because Lee Child is a famous author and can get away with this kind of thing, but I’ve never seen a thriller novel start so slowly. Yes, you might not notice this if you haven’t read any of the other “Jack Reacher” novels, but it has the slowest beginning in any of the Lee Child novels that I’ve read.

In other words, the first quarter of the novel is more like a rather slow-paced legal thriller than an actual thriller novel. But, if you stick with it, then you will be rewarded by a fast-paced, action-packed and suspenseful story which never lets up until the very end. In fact, it’s possible that Lee Child deliberately made the first quarter of the novel so slow-paced in order to make the rest of the novel seem faster and more dramatic by comparison.

Don’t get me wrong, the first quarter of the novel isn’t boring or badly-written. It’s just very different in pacing and style to the first quarter of most of Lee Child’s other novels. If this was a novel by any other author, I probably wouldn’t even comment on this fact – but it’s, well, unusual for a Lee Child novel.

As for the characters, many of them are fairly well-written. Jack Reacher is still Jack Reacher (as the old saying goes “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”), but there are also a few interesting supporting characters too.

Yes, this is one of those novels where Reacher has a companion and a couple of other people to help him out too. I’m not sure whether I prefer these stories to the stories where Reacher is pretty much on his own, but having a few supporting characters works fairly well in this novel.

However, most of the villains (apart from possibly one of them) in “Never Look Back” aren’t really as well-developed as I hoped they would be. I can understand this for the generic “henchmen” characters, but we never really get to learn that much about the main villains of the story.

Yes, it’s explained why the main villains have done what they’ve done, but they never really seem like they’re real, well-developed characters (unlike, say, the villains in “Die Trying”, “The Visitor” and “Without Fail”).

I also kind of have mixed feelings about the plot of “Never Look Back” too. Yes, there are a lot of thrilling set pieces, intriguing mysteries and plot twists – but the ending to the novel just seemed slightly contrived and anticlimactic in some ways. I can’t really describe the ending without giving away major plot spoilers, but I was expecting something a lot more shocking, innovative and dramatic. Even so, all the action scenes, plot twists and mysteries are still compelling enough to make this novel worth reading.

But, despite my criticisms, this is still a Lee Child novel. This is still a well-written and gripping thriller novel. This is still a novel which is almost impossible to put down after you’ve started reading it. It’s still absolutely crammed with action and suspense.

Yes, “Never Look Back” may not have the best beginning and ending ever written, but the part in between these two things is absolutely spectacular.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, then it would probably get a four.