Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Bad Luck and Trouble by Lee Child

Bad Luck and Trouble by Lee Child, 2007

The boxer Muhammad Ali's reach was reckoned to be about forty inches and his hands were once timed at an average eighty miles an hour as they moved through it. Reacher was no Ali. Not even close. Especially not on his weaker side. His left hand moved at about sixty miles an hour, maximum. That was all. But sixty miles an hour was the same thing as a mile a minute, which was about the same thing as eighty-eight feet per second. Which meant that Reacher's left hand took a little less than thirty-thousandths of a second to cross the counter. And halfway through its travel it bunched into a fist.

And thirty-thousandths of a second was way too brief an interval for the guy to pull the Python's trigger. Any revolver is a complex mechanical system and one as big as the Python is heavier in its action than most. Not very susceptible to accidental discharge. The guy's finger didn't even tighten. He took Reacher's fist in his face before his brain had even registered that it was moving. Reacher was a lot slower than Muhammad Ali, but his arms were a lot longer. Which meant that the guy's head kept on accelerating. It kept on accelerating through a whole extra foot and a half before Reacher's arm was fully extended. And then the guy's head kept on accelerating. It kept on accelerating right until it crashed against the wall behind the counter and shattered the glass over the gun dealer's license.

At that point it stopped accelerating and started a slow downward slide to the floor.
---(pages 289-290, UK edition)

Let's face it: when it comes to pure, kinetic, kick-ass thriller reading pleasure, no one beats Lee Child. The Jack Reacher series is pure fun and even though I love the classic formula, I also like it when Child gives it a little twist.

Bad Luck and Trouble changes things up by making lone-wolf Reacher part of a team. Everyone loves Reacher as a one-man military, but it's refreshing to change the dynamic a bit and it adds an unexpected--and amusing--bit of depth to Reacher's character.

As the book begins, Reacher is in Portland, Oregon, when he is contacted by Frances Neagley, a member of a special military police task force that he once headed (soon after the events of The Enemy, in fact). It seems that a member of the old team has been found dead and Neagley is calling in the cavalry in an attempt to find the perpetrators to justice. Together, the remaining team members go to war with a mysterious, powerful enemy, only to find themselves battling against a shocking and lethal terrorist plot.

Most Child novels have peripheral characters who help Reacher on his quest, but there's never been so much emphasis on them. It's extremely amusing to see Reacher operating as the leader of a team, and the way that that changes his usual strategy. Even better is the subtle comparison of Reacher's drifter lifestyle and his friends' prosperous, structured lives. Is Reacher embarrassed? Jealous? A bit of both? Child never quite tells us, but it's fantastic to see the man of steel express a few new emotions.

The plot is fairly standard for a Jack Reacher adventure: not completely ingenious, but lively and with several nice twists. There aren't any of the jaw-dropping shocks that punctuate the very best Child novels and the villains are boring compared to Gone Tomorrow's Lila Hoth or One Shot's The Zec.

To make up for it, we get fun character interaction and snappy dialogue between the special investigators. The non-Reacher investigators do lack some depth, but they're likable and well drawn, and since there's some sexual tension between Reacher and petite brunette Karla Dixon, we get to skip Reacher's obligatory love interest. That device has certainly worn very thin over the course of the series.

Perhaps most importantly, we get the incredible action scenes and the explosive climax we've come to expect from Jack Reacher. No one--and I mean no one--can grab you during those last fifty pages like Lee Child can. In this installment, we get a particularly delightful, multi-layered orgy of violence and Reacher-induced mayhem. The final confrontation with the Big Bad is a sadistic delight (are those two things mutually exclusive?).

Bad Luck and Trouble is not a work of great literature by any means--although we do need more great works of literature where cars are driven through glass walls--but it is a work of great thriller writing, like all of the Jack Reacher books are, a masterpiece of suspense and action, as well as being just about as much fun as you're likely to have reading. This is one series that just never stops giving pleasure.

NEXT UP: Strip Jack by Ian Rankin.

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