Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Hard Way by Lee Child

The Hard Way by Lee Child, 2006

Lee Child's Jack Reacher series is literary crack. Each novel is a blissfully thrilling blend of mystery and action. Child's lean writing is a combination of John D. MacDonald's and Elmore Leonard's. No other thriller writer gives me as much as pleasure as Child and The Hard Way is another exemplary entry in the Reacher canon.

Jack Reacher (the spiritual grandson of MacDonald's Travis McGee) is an ex-military cop who wanders around America, not staying in one place for more than a few days. His only permanent possessions are his bank card and his folding toothbrush. When he sees cruelty or injustice, he'll deal with it using his lethal skills-- and then move on.

In The Hard Way, Reacher is in New York when he witnesses a dead drop ransom payment. Before long, he's been hired by the head of a deadly mercenary group to find his abducted wife and daughter--and he isn't telling Reacher the whole truth.

Although the Reacher are technically thrillers, the mystery element is usually very strong, and The Hard Way has a fantastic mystery with several truly shocking twists and a conclusion that actually makes sense.

Not to say that the series' signature action isn't in fine form. The climax (which occurs, of all places, in a small English village) is pure kinetic pleasure. Child's clipped style is perfectly suited to action.

There's some nice character interactions, too. Per the formula, Reacher picks up a female companion, an ex-FBI agent saddled with the unfortunate name of Lauren Pauling. Their romance is nicely understated, although nothing highly memorable.

Always a dynamic pacer, Child keeps up the series standard without resorting to a string of over-the-top action scenes. The first two-thirds of the book are really more of a mystery than a true thriller, but the final segment more than makes up for it in badass-ery:

Reacher stared at it for a moment. Then he put it in his pocket. He buried the longer knife to its hilt in Perez's chest. Tucked the shorter knife in his own shoe. Kicked the corkscrew and the broken flashlight into the shadows. Used his thumb to clean Perez's blood and frontal lobe off of the G-36's monocular lens. Picked up the MP5 submachine gun and slung it over his left shoulder.

Then he headed back north and east toward the barns.

Reacher, alone in the dark. Doing it the hard way
--- (pages 459-460)

The Jack Reacher novels are just so much fun, unadulterated reading pleasure. Even the occasional unnecessary political aside can't dull the novel's appeal. Writing a novel as truly thrilling as this ain't as easy as it looks and Child is at the top of his game. The Hard Way is about as entertaining a book I've read in the last few months. Until the next Reacher adventure anyway.

NEXT UP: How Right You Are, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse.

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