The remarkable thing about the first 18 or so of Lee Child’s novels about former Army Military Policeman Jack Reacher was his ability to hook you into the story in the first 6-8 pages making his books almost impossible to put down. That magic seems to have deserted him with the last few titles and “Past Tense” is by far the least compelling book in the series. I was 60 pages into it and still wasn’t all that interested in the plot and it was very easy to put it aside and do something else. Normally I crank through a ‘Reacher-Feature’ in a couple days but “Past Tense” took me much, much longer.
Things begin as they typically do with Reacher hitching a ride, this time in New Hapshire when he gets sidetracked looking for his father’s hometown. There’s another scenario playing out with a Canadian couple who are potato farmers driving a beat up Honda Civic to New York City for some kind of vague deal. They experience car trouble and stop at a remote motel where they are the only guests. We spend a lot of time with Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head setting up a fairly predictable human hunting story that reminded me (and others here) of “The Most Dangerous Game” by Richard Connell that I read in 6th grade. JR in the meantime wanders around town looking for clues about his dad and deciding where to eat breakfast.
It’s sadly very boring, in past books Reacher at least had some worthy opponents but recently he just takes on local toughs and rubes pummeling them into submission. The situation is lamentably the same here with this time around we find him facing a vicious crew of apple pickers! To their credit the locals do eventually bring in a ringer that gives JR a bit of a challenge in a later encounter. Reacher also finds time to rescue a woman being molested by a college kid who apparently is the son of some Boston mob guy putting him in the hospital. Naturally the gangster sends goons to seek vengeance (including above mentioned ringer) but this side story is a small distraction. A good portion of the novel is spent with Reacher seeking out information about his father’s past and he gets some measure of closure by the end.
It takes over 300 pages (of a 382 page book) for things to get interesting with Reacher after some serendipitous cogitation showing up during the human bow hunting competition and lending a hand to the would-be victims (who actually acquit themselves pretty well without him). We wrap up the foray in Reacher family genealogy and a bit of misdirection involving possible mistaken identity and the OG goons is cleared up. We find JR back on the road for his thumb up looking for a ride to San Diego.
2018 has been a disappointing year for some of my regular authors; first Anne Hillerman stumbled with her latest installment of her father’s well regarded Leaphorn/Chee series, then there was the very dark and over-the-top Craig Johnson novel “Depth of Winter” in his popular Longmire saga, and just recently I was underwhelmed by Michael Connelly’s Bosch/Ballard collaboration, “Dark Sacred Night” which was pretty dull and seems to be setting the stage for former LAPD detective Bosch retiring for good. I had hopes that Lee Child would revive my reading experience with “Past Tense” but sadly it was largely a yawner. At least there were no glaring errors regarding firearms or military related factoids but that’s faint praise. Read “Past Tense” if you’re a die-hard Reacher fan and have enjoyed the previous stories but with this book and the past couple it seems Child is losing his mojo.