No Middle Name­­

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Written by Lee Child — Jack Reacher is no slouch when it comes to leaping in the saddle to right wrongs and joust with the wicked in Lee Child’s full-length novels. In this book of whip-cracking tales the short story form spurs on the action to take us on an even faster and thrilling gallop with our hero.

The downside is there’s no time to build up the tension. But the up is that we are promised a whistle-stop insight into how Reacher was formed from the tough-kid to the tough-guy. This collection of short stories and novellas wouldn’t be a bad place to start for Reacher virgins.

The blurb goes that read together, “They shed new light on Reacher’s past.” An insight yes, but new, no. Eleven of the shorts have been previously published, so they ain’t exactly novel, though handy in one place, and especially so for rookie fans.

There’s also a new novella and the first chapter of Child’s next Reacher novel, The Midnight Line.

So we get Reacher the kid fighting other army brats, Reacher getting laid, cracking an intelligence case and fighting all the way through. His father muses that his youngest son hasn’t lost a fight since he was about five years old, or maybe never.

The problem is that Reacher appears as a fully formed fighting teenaged machine able to unpick human motivation and deduce what is going on, from his pubescent years. He doesn’t grow, apart from putting beefy muscle on his already huge frame. He doesn’t change much.

In the new novella, Too Much Time, Reacher witnesses a mugging that has his hero-radar flapping. He can’t help getting involved and steps in to hand the thief to the small-town cops. He’s asked to give a statement and ten minutes of his time, what’s the worst that could happen? Well, a charge of ‘felonious involvement’ means Reacher is held behind bars, so forced to outwit the cops with traditional old deducement tactics, turning the tables on his interrogators as we cheer him on from the sidelines

When we reviewed Night School, which goes 20 years back in time to a 35-year-old Reacher, we asked, can it be that the Reacher franchise is running out of road? The flashbacks in this collection are looking to the past for more of the same, but what fans appear to enjoy about Reacher is the easy, predictable read, so this won’t disappoint them.

We also wondered in our look at the novel Personal if, in an era where thriller characters are becoming ever more realistic and human, you may struggle with some of the more implausible parts of the book. Well, hell yes. In the story High Heat, Reacher, aged 16, “six-five, two-twenty, all muscle … brand new”, outfoxes a mobster boss, makes out with a girl, helps an FBI agent and gives evidence leading to the arrest of the real-life serial killer Son of Sam in 1976. Totally unbelievable, but one of the more entertaining tales here.

There are a couple I yawned through. In Second Son in which Reacher, 13, beats up the bigger smelly kid and solves cases that stump the military police, he is verging on the insufferable. And the 12-pager, Maybe They Have a Tradition, is just a bit of flimsy when Reacher gets blown off-course to an English country house, where everyone is marooned in the snow, but somehow he gets there to save the night. What? Please.

The new novel opening had me hooked. Reacher sticks to his rules and jumps on the first bus out of town. As usual he stops on a whim, this time when he sees a ring in a pawn shop. So far, so predictable. And I’m glad it is so.

I wish more traditional publishers would take a punt on short stories and novellas. I love this format. But authors mostly have to have success like the award-winning Lee Child to be entertained.

Bantam Press

CFL Rating: 4 Stars

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