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Definitely One of the Best Reachers
on September 27, 2011
If you're a fan of the Jack Reacher series, you already know that Lee Child is currently the undisputed master of the unputdownable thriller. When it comes to narrative momentum and expertly wrought tension, his only rival is the late, great Dick Francis.
However, the last two Reachers - though good - left me a bit cold because I was getting tired of the "Reacher stumbles into small-town corruption" formula. Fortunately, THE AFFAIR flashes back to his army career, where he faces his true arch-nemesis, the military bureaucracy, and we learn why he decided to drop out and become a toothbrush-packing drifter. Even though the novel is mainly set in yet another bleak small town, I'm happy to report that Reacher is back to form. This latest adventure delivers the expected page-turning excitement, plus a few other bonuses:
* Both the beginning and the end are better than usual. Child tends to be too abrupt for my taste. Here he takes the time to set the scene at the Pentagon and ease past the climax in a very satisfying way.
* The love interest, the ex-marine sheriff Elizabeth Deveraux, is Child's most entertaining female character so far. She's not just there to be Reacher's girl. She has an extra dimension and is important to the story.
* The "midnight special" train that roars past Carter Crossing every night is an ingenious device Child uses to ratchet up the suspense, provide a menacing undercurrent, and structure the complicated action in a clear way. It's the most impressive example yet of Child's narrative skill. Plus, choo-choos are just plain cool.
A new reader to the series may find the staccato rhythm of the sentences a bit off-putting at first, and Reacher's tough-guy terseness here and there verging on self-parody. But they're essential ingredients in Child's hugely enjoyable, impressively consistent franchise. Overall, I rank THE AFFAIR with the best of the series, up there with PERSUADER, ONE SHOT, and THE ENEMY.