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An Primer on Jack Reacher

Actually, ex-wrestler/actor Roddy Piper would make a more physically-convincing Reacher...
by Jack Sommersby

With the upcoming Tom Cruise star vehicle "Jack Reacher" on the near horizon, those who haven't read best-selling author Lee Child's phenomenal thriller series featuring the amazing ex-military-policeman hero can get context on the character from this review of the best book of the series, "Running Blind."Hopefully, Cruise will prove us wrong that he's not miscast as this 6'5"/220-pound mountain of a stalwart good guy who's equal parts brawn and brain.

Someoneís killing women. Attractive women. Strong-willed women who used to be in the Army who filed sexual-harassment claims against an officer. Three so far, with the geography of the slayings all in different parts of the country. Found dead in their bathtubs filled to the rim with Army-green paint with not just zero in the way of forensic evidence but no clear cause of death, either. The work of a diabolically clever serial killer. The FBIís behavioral-science unit is stumped, and theyíve blackmailed a man named Jack Reacher, a super-smart former military police officer who mustered out after the Cold War with the final rank of major, into helping them with what with the military angle. For the uninitiated, this is the fourth entry in the Reacher series that started out quite extraordinarily with the multi-award-winning debut Killing Floor, and this oneís even better. After having grown up an Army brat and lived off and on at military bases all over the world and made a career out of the Army, when Reacher left he realized there was so much of the country that he swore to defend that he hadnít actually explored and experienced. So before Running Blind he made it a habit of nomadically taking buses to various destinations and then spending no more than a day or two in any one location; and rather than being burdened with a suitcase, the most he carried with him was an expired passport, a couple of thousand in cash, and a folding toothbrush; and he found buying cheap clothes every few days preferable than accumulating a wardrobe. And along the way heís found himself mixed up in a fair share of misadventures of which heís always come out ahead. As the story opens, Reacherís in New York City trying to get used to ďcivilianĒ life in a large house his ex-CO left him in a will and with a steady girlfriend, Jodie Garber, who was the COís daughter and whoís a high-powered corporate lawyer. Reacher loves her but is slowly going stir crazy in a domesticated existence heís totally at odds with, so itís not too surprising when he inserts himself into someoneís business -- that of a start-up restaurant owner whoís being muscled into paying extortion; Reacher likes the guy and winds up busting the heads of the crime lordís goons in a nearby alley. But heís been under the surveillance of the FBI, who witness the crime and threaten to make his life miserable if he doesnít cooperate; with very little in the way of legal leeway, he grudgingly agrees to act as a paid advisor even though he has as little respect for the FBI as they do the military. Suffice to say, Reacher is unleashed upon a cunning killer and thereís definitely going to be hell to pay, which Reacher is capable of dishing out in spades.

Leading the investigation is one Julie Lammarr, who has a seething resentment against Reacher and gets along with as well as oil mixed with water; and itís quite the physical match-up being that sheís no more than average height and scrawny while heís six-foot-five at two-hundred-twenty pounds. Afraid of flying, she drives Reacher to Quantico while he makes jabs at her college degree in horticulture and the dubiousness of behavioral science that he has absolutely no stock in, and then a bombshell of information drops: Lammarrís worried that the killer might be after her sister in Idaho; she, too, is self-reliant, lives alone, and left the military after a harassment claim. Reacherís certainly not the culprit, but he represents the culprit who she believes is an enlisted man, and Reacher thinks the military angle is a faÁade. But to show heís making the effort, he says he needs to go see some of his former military contacts, which means flying, which means heís paired with another agent, Lisa Harper, with this one younger and more attractive who he gets along with a lot better, and a playful sexual attraction is there and is one of the best things in the novel -- they know a romantic thing between them canít come to anything so they safely sail around the perimeter of it with teasing innuendo. (Itís perfectly fitting that a big laugh comes from the agents trying to repress smirks the morning after Reacher has been observed in his dorm room by a security camera wearing nothing in the way of clothing to bed.) In between the goings-on of Reacher weíre thrust into the twisted mind of the killer from their point of view in pages that are positively nerve-jangling: not only do we get to sense the intelligence and madness but the egotism thatís confident of remaining two to three steps ahead of the pursuers. And even Reacher is thrown by something absent rather than present at the crime scenes: absolutely no signs of a struggle or violence. So how does the killer render these victims of the ex-military variety so docile as to make them allow the killer entry in to their homes and submit to the demands of willingly getting into the bathtubs without so much as a smidgen of spilled paint; and why is there not a speck of blood or a wound anywhere on the bodies whatsoever? And then another body turns up in the same methodical fashion, and even when the entire bathtub is airlifted out and sent directly to Quantico, their best forensic expert is still stumped except to say he knows what medically caused the death but that the manner in which it had to have been induced is impossible from the lack of signs in the autopsy. When the reader is finally made privy to it, itís guaranteed to knock their socks off.

A former television writer, author Lee Child is uncommonly good in his observance of small detail and fascinating police procedurals along with an uncanny ability at making the reader feel absolutely sure that every facet he writes about is bona-fide genuine. From the New York neighborhoods to the Quantico departments to the autopsies to the relations between federal authorities and small-town cops to even the overstarched sheets in Reacherís cool-temperature dorm room causing his body heat to escape between them, Child is an absolute master at lending authentic texture to things most writers would glide right over or who are simply not acute enough to ponder. He certainly has an ironclad grasp on the rudiments necessary for a great thriller but also possesses the acute introspection at making it psychologically complex and adult-oriented in the best traditional sense; you have to pay the utmost attention because Child doesnít write an irrelevant line, no matter how apparently disarming it may seem, which is one of the reasons why heís a master at the knockout story payoff -- when not heeding this, you feel foolish later on down the line for not catching what heís slyly yet understatedly accentuated like a naughty storyteller enjoyably manipulating you. (Jeffrey Deaver of the Lincoln Child thriller series is one of the few in Childís bravura realm.) Yet nothing feels overstated or overprepared -- the book breathes with more life then five novels of its genre with an identity all its own with a truly inimical villain whoís frighteningly believable and more than worthy of a formidable opponent like Reacher. In a way, this dastardly foe is more grounded than him, who, for all his travels, is still somewhat of an unformed man -- heís got delicious bits and pieces of a fascinating human being but his unwillingness to emotionally commit to a relationship or a steady job makes him an outcast of his own doing, even though his raison d'Ítre of helping people along the way in his travels when he isnít aimlessly roving is intrinsically altruistic and more self-fulfilling, even though he'd probably be embarassed if someone tried to heap helpings of praise onto him. The psychological depths Child unearths in both the hunter and the hunted are truly tantalizing, which helps make these characters so lucidly multi-dimensional and intriguing. And on other terms Child is aces at intelligently rendering the whodunit angle (the clues are niftily planted), saturating us with wonderful dialogue (Reacherís no-nonsense barbs leave "crafty" at the starting gate), and snapplily pacing this nearly five-hundred-page masterpiece like absolute gangbusters. Itís spellbinding entertainment of the highest order.


link directly to this feature at http://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=3406
originally posted: 07/18/12 23:17:31
last updated: 07/20/12 08:14:23
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