Never Go Back by Lee Child

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Since the last Jack Reacher novel, A Wanted Man, we’ve had a controversial movie adaptation of One Shot starring Tom Cruise as Reacher, as well as a Kindle short story involving Lee Child’s main man. But for fans of the series, these were mere side shows. On 29 August, Lee Child is back with a main event: the release of the 18th novel in the Jack Reacher series.

So let’s catch up. In 61 Hours, our hero battled a Mexican criminal mastermind nicknamed Plato, and biker gangs, in South Dakota. Then, he bested the Duncan clan in rural Nebraska in Worth Dying For, and went on to tangle with the FBI while hitch-hiking to Chicago in A Wanted Man. Now, this saga is reaching its conclusion as Major Susan Turner, head of the 110th Military Police Company, summons him back to his old unit. Will a visit be worth it? Reacher is about to find out.

As in any Lee Child book, things are not that straightforward. When Reacher shows, Turner isn’t at her desk. Instead, he meets Lieutenant Colonel Morgan who has bad news. Reacher is wanted for questioning over the death in custody of a prisoner of his from way back, somebody Reacher can’t recall. This time, he can’t just get up and leave because Morgan has evoked a little known rule to recall him. He is back in the Army. He’ll get the help of a lawyer to appeal his recall and to be his advocate during the court martial. In the meantime he is to stay at headquarters during working hours and be at a motel at all other times.

When he’s dismissed for the day, Reacher goes back to the motel where he receives a visit from two young men, carrying no identification but obviously soldiers of some description. They threaten him. Their obvious intention is to get him to run, but Reacher doesn’t run from a threat, he confronts it. Besides he still hasn’t met Turner yet.

His battle in Never Go Back is to clear his name, and find Turner. It doesn’t take him long to realise that the way he’s been framed and Turner’s disappearance must be linked. Such a coordinated effort requires power and access to information. Somebody near the top is pulling the strings. Reacher finds out where Turner is being held and together they escape. A game of cat and mouse ensues across the United States as the pair are pursued by four thugs. All the while Reacher whittles down the list of possible suspects, and the clues point them towards Washington DC.

For the first 300 pages this reads like it’s going to be the best book in the Jack Reacher series so far – and that’s saying something. There are some outstanding scenes. Firstly, Reacher’s first meeting with Morgan and the revelation that Turner’s not there and Reacher is under arrest. Then his rescue of Turner when both are waiting for their lawyers to arrive, and the toe curling journey out of the Army campus as they pass through several checkpoints, all the while waiting for the alarm to be sounded. Then, finally, Reacher confronting two of his pursuers on a commercial flight while none of the other passengers is even slightly aware of what is going on.

But what should be the big finale is a big let down. We don’t want to say too much about what happens when Reacher reaches Washington, but the skilfully built tension that Lee Child is a master of all goes to waste. Child is always readable and this novel, just like the 17 before it, delivers enough excitement to more than justify the price of admission. See what you think of the ending, though. For us it’s far from being the strongest.

Bantam Press

CFL Rating: 4 Stars

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