Written by Lee Child — If’ you’re visiting a website dedicated to crime fiction, you might already have some familiarity with what must be the most successful single-character series in the genre right now – the Jack Reacher novels. Maybe you’ve read at least one of Child’s books. Hell, you might even have read the entire series. I know I have, but I avoided them for a long time, and let me tell you why.
Firstly they are thrillers. There is nothing necessarily wrong with that, but they tend towards the unrealistic, and character development is often lost amid all the explosions. Secondly, this particular brand of thriller tends to feature protagonists that are as far from the ‘everyman’ as possible. Again, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with that – who wants to read about boring people overcoming mundane problems? However, often the hero is so strong, clever or skilled in exotic martial arts and military weaponry that they appear unkillable. Occasionally you’ll even detect a kind of fetishism – gun-porn is probably a good description for it. The shoot first, ask questions later attitude doesn’t help. The tension goes, and I end up not caring what happens. Disastrous, in other words, for a type of entertainment that was meant to thrill me.
So having read the first Reacher book, The Killing Floor, why did I read the rest? After all, isn’t Reacher an ex-military, champion sniper? He’s built like a brick outhouse, and regularly gets the better of his enemies, often when outnumbered. Whilst all the above is true, it’s not the whole story. Child keeps the plots just the right side of plausible. All of the situations Reacher finds himself in could happen, they’re just not very likely to. He writes Reacher as a sceptic, and is ever so slightly anti-authoritarian. It makes such a difference. Reacher isn’t any more likely to accept the word of a general than of a criminal, and certainly isn’t going to take orders from anyone. The gun-porn is present. Child is a pro who knows his audience, what the market expects. He isn’t going to disappoint, but he keeps it to a minimum.
A Wanted Man is the 17th novel in the series, and follows chronologically from Worth Dying For. The last one, The Affair, was a step back in time looking at the events surrounding Reacher’s leaving the army. The plotting here is always precise, moving from one point of tension to another via the shortest possible route. You will never find any flab in a Reacher book. Chapters are short – there are 80 in this book – and they finish in a way that makes you want to get to the next quick-sharp.
Reacher is hitch-hiking and gets picked up by two men and a woman. The atmosphere is wrong, the woman is nervous and subdued, the men are pushy and borderline aggressive. It’s also pretty clear they’re all lying about something. Across town a statewide manhunt is under way. A State Department official has been murdered in a sensitive location, and it looks as if a local bar waitress has been kidnapped. The killers need to get through the roadblocks, and when the police are looking for two men and a woman, what better way of escaping than picking up a passenger? Well, that’s unless he’s Jack Reacher. The story opens out in an unexpected way and the claustrophobia of the car journey is exchanged for a climactic battle in an abandoned army base as Reacher takes on terrorists from home and abroad.
Child lets the tension ratchet up and the anticipation build as we see the pieces of the jigsaw fall in to place for Reacher. It’s almost a trademark set up, Reacher against the odds, but with the bad guys failing to grasp what they’re up against. Part of the fun of these books is seeing them realise just a little too late.
I read this book in about three sittings, which is normal for me with a Reacher book. And in general A Wanted Man is just about par for a Lee Child novel. That is to say great entertainment, miles ahead of the opposition. Roll on number 18.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars