The Tzer Island book blog features book reviews written by TChris, the blog's founder.  I hope the blog will help readers discover good books and avoid bad books.  I am a reader, not a book publicist.  This blog does not exist to promote particular books, authors, or publishers.  I therefore do not participate in "virtual book tours" or conduct author interviews.  You will find no contests or giveaways here.

The blog's nonexclusive focus is on literary/mainstream fiction, thriller/crime/spy novels, and science fiction.  While the reviews cover books old and new, in and out of print, the blog does try to direct attention to books that have been recently published.  Reviews of new (or newly reprinted) books generally appear every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  Reviews of older books appear on occasional Sundays.  Readers are invited and encouraged to comment.  See About Tzer Island for more information about this blog, its categorization of reviews, and its rating system.

Entries in Lee Child (2)

Wednesday
Oct112017

The Midnight Line by Lee Child

Published by Random House/Delacorte Press on Nov. 7, 2017

The Midnight Line is the best Reacher novel I’ve read in quite some time. Lee Child always stands out in the crowd of “tough guy” fiction authors, but The Midnight Line stands out because the “tough guy” aspect of the story is underplayed. Instead, Child focuses the story on a serious real-world issue: soldiers who suffer serious injuries in the line of duty, who become addicted to powerful pain medications, and who are then all but abandoned by the government that gave them their problem. Lee illustrates that issue by focusing on one woman’s struggle to make it through each day, which amounts to a struggle to find the opioids she needs to maintain a life she can handle.

Jack Reacher stumbles upon a ring in a pawn shop that was once owned by a female West Point graduate. The pawned ring suggests that the woman encountered some sort of trouble, so Reacher, being Reacher, decides to find her. His first step involves fighting a motorcycle gang. He is, after all, a tough guy, and it is a rule of tough guy novels that tough guy heroes must establish their tough guy credentials at the beginning of every story. Authors of lesser novels do nothing else, but the best writers search for a more compelling storyline than “tough guys are really tough.” Child usually comes through in that regard, although some of his books do it more successfully than others.

Reacher’s next step takes him to Rapid City and to a fellow named Shapiro who is suspected of all sorts of criminal activities by the local police. A private detective from Chicago who specializes in finding missing persons is also keeping an eye on Shapiro. It isn't hard to figure out which missing person the detective is trying to find. Eventually Reacher teams up with the private detective and the missing woman’s sister to look for the woman who belongs to the ring.

Reacher novels are compulsively readable, and this one is no exception. The pace is steady, calm and assured, exactly what a reader should expect from a confident writer. There is action from time to time, but after the fight with the motorcycle gang, this is a novel of anticipation more than action. I like that. With so many mindless tough guy novels on the market, a tough guy who doesn’t feel a constant need to prove his superiority to other tough guys is a welcome change.

The Midnight Line is a compassionate novel. The story is a little sad because for many people, life gets to be a little sad. Life goes where life takes us, and that isn’t always where we want our lives to go, but sad or not, life goes on until it stops. Reacher accepts that, and Child wants the reader to accept it, without all the hokey “make your own destiny” bromides that are so popular in novels and self-help books. When life doesn’t go well, you cope, and if you’re lucky, you cope without being judged and other people still respect your dignity and give you the decent treatment that should come with being human. We could use more of that sort of understanding.

The novel’s only flaw is that a police detective and her computer guy engage in some police work that struck me as fanciful. The method by which they figured out the phone number of a telephone sold by a convenience store and the phone company’s willingness to give the police a voicemail left on that number without a subpoena or warrant both struck me as implausible. But those are minor complaints about a novel that isn’t about police work so much as it is about a person dealing with a problem that she has in common with thousands of others. Child encourages the reader to understand her, and to understand and feel compassion for people like her (not just veterans). Kudos to Child for writing a tough guy novel that displays so much compassion and sensitivity — values that are in short supply, not just in tough guy novels, but in life.

RECOMMENDED

Wednesday
Oct082014

Personal by Lee Child

Published by Delacorte Press on September 2, 2014

I would put Personal in the bottom half of the stack of Reacher novels. Although it is far from the strongest entry in the series, it has merit. Fans of the series will find that Personal adds nothing significant to Reacher's character, but that would be difficult to do in a series that has run for nineteen novels.

John Kott, a man Reacher arrested as an MP sixteen years earlier, is one of a handful of suspects who may have taken a shot at the president of France. The British and Americans are worried that Kott (and/or other assassins) will try to kill the British Prime Minister and other world leaders during an EU meeting in London. Reacher is tasked with investigating Kott but his real mission is to act as bait. Accompanying him on his mission is a CIA liaison to the State Department named Casey Nice. Occasionally Reacher is helped or hindered by a British agent named Bennett.

The plot of Personal takes Reacher to France and England as he searches for Kott. In furtherance of that mission, he needs to figure out whether Kott has actually been hired as an assassin and, if so, where and how he will attempt to fire his next fatal shot. That quest allows Reacher to mix it up with some thugs in the English underworld, providing ample opportunity for the hand-to-hand fight scenes that Child writes so well. That plot, in itself, would be too easy, and so hidden agendas come into play that give the story some added intrigue, although they don't really materialize until the final chapter.

As always, Child's secondary characters are interesting and convincing. Still, an attempt to portray Nice as weak and potentially unreliable because of her dependence on anti-anxiety medication struck me as unnecessary and condescending. The novel tells a conventional story that is in most (but not all) respects predictable, but it is executed with the skill a reader would expect from Child. The story moves quickly and the questions that puzzle Reacher are answered cleverly. That's barely enough to earn a recommendation, but Personal left me wondering if Child is running out of gas.

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