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Night School

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NightSchool_Firstlook_875Written by Lee Child — We’ve got to number 21 in the Jack Reacher series and the big man is as unpredictable as ever. As is his creator, because this time Lee Child has taken Reacher back 20 years and our 35-year-old hero is still in the army.

Major Reacher is fresh off a successful secret mission and he has a shiny new medal to prove it. He’s expecting a pat on the back; instead, he gets sent to ‘school’. The only other students there are an FBI agent and a CIA analyst. And it’s all a subterfuge because – guess what? –  this isn’t really a school at all.

Somewhere, an American wants $100 million. But who is he? What is he selling? And who’s buying? Three questions set to tax the trio, especially when the message is linked to a cell of smartly-dressed young Saudi men, quietly living in Hamburg.

This is a Reacher we’re not really used to seeing, someone who is willing to work with others for the greater good. Granted, it isn’t long before he’s set up his own investigation, working in his own inimitable way, in the company of  trusted Sergeant Frances Neagley. But, he still has to touch base regularly and play nice with Casey Waterman from the FBI and the CIA’s John White. They’re working together at the behest of people at the very top of the tree, with Deputy to the National Security Adviser Dr Marian Sinclair following their every move.

Sinclair is also Reacher’s love interest in this tale, with sex scenes that really add nothing to the narrative flow in a book that poses something of a conundrum. Why take the story back to a time when Jihadist terrorism was in its infancy? Can it be that the Reacher franchise is running out of road?

Some book series can run and run, offering something new every time (Ian Rankin‘s Rebus is a prime example) but others seems to limp along, still pulling in the sales but gradually losing the support of the faithful. Patricia Cornwell‘s Kay Scarpetta falls into this category and Jack Reacher is worryingly close to joining her.

Major Reacher is a shoot-first-ask-questions-later tough guy who would fit perfectly into any old-time Hollywood Western. There are hints of the man he is to become, but I’m not sure that readers meeting him for the first time in Night School will be inspired to continue his journey. Which is a pity, because some of the later Reacher novels are prime examples of an author at the top of his game.

The interplay between Reacher and Neagley is something to enjoy, and with much of the action taking place in Hamburg it’s good to see our hero way out of his American comfort zone. The addition of overweight, under pressure Chief of Detectives Griezman adds extra interest and a story strand about a far right nationalist group rings far too true in the current political climate.

It’s also interesting to see an investigation taking place without the aid of the internet and all the hi-tech gadgets at our disposal today, and quite a shock to realise how far things have moved on in 20 years. However, that slower pace of progress is echoed in the narrative, which is a little slow and plodding. Not quite the rip-roaring, action-packed, twist-a-minute ride we’ve come to expect from Child and Reacher – and that’s a great pity.

Try Lee Child’s A Wanted Man, which we reviewed in 2012.

Transworld Publishers
Print/Kindle/iBook
£8.00

CFL Rating: 3 Stars

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