Blue Moon by Lee Child: A Very Timely Novel Puts Reacher in One of the Most Dangerous Positions He’s Been In

Blue Moon

Blue Moon

by Lee Child
Series: Jack Reacher, #24

Hardcover, 356 pg.
Delacorte Press, 2019

Read: December 2-3, 2019

Grab a copy from your local indie bookstore!

“We should be magnanimous in victory. Someone said that.”

“Full disclosure,” Reacher said. “I told you before. I’m a certain kind of person. Is the guy in the trunk still breathing?”

“I don’t know,” Abby said.

“But there’s a possibility.”

“Yes, there’s a possibility.”

“That’s me being magnanimous in victory. Normally I kill them, kill their families, and piss on their ancestors’ graves.”

“I never know when you’re kidding me.”

“I guess that’s true.”

“Are you saying you’re not kidding me now?”

“I’m saying in my case magnanimity is in short supply.”

“You’re taking food to an old couple in the middle of the night.”

“That’s a different word than magnanimous.”

“Still a nice gesture.”

“Because one day I could be them. But I’ll never be the guy in the trunk.”

“So it’s purely tribal,” Abby said. “Your kind of people, or the other kind.”

“My kind of people, or the wrong kind.”

“Who’s in your tribe?”

“Almost nobody,” Reacher said. “I live a lonely life.”

Reacher is on a bus bound for somewhere. He sees an older man being targeted for a mugging (both he and the would-be thief have noticed a fat envelope that seems to be holding cash). When the man and his predator get off at some city, Reacher abandons his planned trip to follow along.

Obviously, he foils the mugging, but the older man is injured, so Reacher appoints himself a guardian and assistant until he can get the man home. He learns that this man and his wife are in debt to a Ukrainian loan shark, and it’s not looking good. They got in this state due to some incredibly believable bad luck, and Reacher decides to take it upon himself to get them out of it. Maybe not permanently, but at least for the foreseeable future. He has essentially one week to extricate them from their current predicament, and Reacher is hopefully going to beat that clock and get back on the road.

We’re not told what city this takes place in, it doesn’t matter—it’s a small-to-medium sized city with two competing crime syndicates. One is a Ukranian mob, the other is an Albanian mob. They each control half the city, with a very clear line of demarcation. They’re currently enjoying an uneasy peace, and are nervous about a new police commissioner coming soon—neither group has been able to find a way to manipulate or bribe him and they’re in his sights. Before I forget, I want to say that I love that both groups speak/write in unbroken English—I get why other authors use broken English for these kinds of characters, but it feels less cartoonish this way.

Once Reacher starts doing his thing, a little comedy happens. Reacher is trying to do X. The Ukrainians see the effects and assume the Albanians are doing Y. The Albanians see the effects and assume the Ukrainians are up to Z. The clear messages Reacher is sure he’s sending aren’t being received by anyone. Before long the two factions are on the brink of war—which is the last thing that anyone wants.

While he’s trying to help out this older couple, Reacher befriends a waitress, Abby. Soon, she leads him to some other allies—a couple of musicians (one a former Marine) and a security consultant who used to be a Company Commander in an Armored Division in Europe during the Cold War. There’s some good-natured chest-thumping between the three veterans which helps lighten to tension.

Abby is tough and smart. She reminded me a lot of Patty from Past Tense—she adapts to the dangerous situation she finds herself in pretty well. She’s not crazy about it, she’s pretty freaked out, honestly. But she pulls herself together enough to help Reacher as well as being his conscience occasionally (she’s less willing than he is to leave a trail of bodies in their wake). Like Patty, once things get rolling, Abby starts analyzing her situation and what’s going on with the Ukrainians/Albanians in a very Reacher-esque way.

What makes this one distinctive from others in the series? It feels very ripped-from-the-headlines. Not in the sense that Law & Order based stories on actual events, but in that it addresses a handful of things that are in the news practically every day lately. Sure, Reacher frequently deals with real issues, but this seems the most timely since Gone Tomorrow a decade ago (I could be wrong about that, but that’s the one that jumps to mind without taking time to review the details of each of the 23 previous novels). I don’t think Child could/should keep that up, but doing something so fresh-feeling every now and then would be a great idea.

Also, Reacher seems a bit different—still Reacher, I’m not saying that Child’s changing him, but he’s not quite his usual self. For starters, he seems more inclined to a “kill ’em all” approach to the various criminals (especially later in the novel). Now, this could be because he wants to ensure the safety of this older couple who really can’t defend themselves, so he’s getting the defense in pre-emptively. The other possibility I can think of is that he assumes there’s only one language both organizations will understand.

The other difference is Reacher seems more mortal, at least more aware of his mortality. He tells Mrs. Shevick that he knows he will be beaten one day—but today isn’t that day. He’s also more obviously lonely (not just because of the semi-joking material quoted above). It’s like being that lone wandering warrior is taking its toll on Reacher. We’ve seen this before from time to time, but it seems to be growing lately. I remember reading in Martin’s Reacher Said Nothing that Child had considered retiring the series around The Midnight Line, I can’t help but wonder if this is a sign of that becoming imminent.

A stronger cast of non-“Bad Guy” characters than we’re used to seeing from this series, a winning female lead, some tragic victims, a bunch of ruthless criminals, a lot of bullets flying and Reacher at his toughest. There’s so little to not like here. One of my favorites lately.


4 1/2 Stars

2019 Library Love Challenge2019 Cloak & Dagger Challenge

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The Hero by Lee Child: Lee Child Traces the Development and Use of “The Hero”

The Hero

The Hero

by Lee Child

Hardcover, 77 pg.
TLS Books, 2019

Read: November 28, 2019

Grab a copy from your local indie bookstore!

There are only two real people in fiction—the storyteller and the listener. The story proceeds based on the teller’s aims and the listener’s needs. If the listener needs light entertainment, and the teller aims to be loved, then light entertainment is what the listener will get. But if the listener needs reassurance of some kind, or consolation, and the teller aims to better equip her family for future trials, then the story will likely be suspenseful in nature, replete with dangers and perils, over which a memorable character will eventually triumph in a decisive manner, such that the listener finishes the tale with a tight and determined smile, with moist eyes fixed on the distant horizon.

Child’s first Non-Fiction look is an essay exploring the concept of the hero through human history. On the one hand, I had no idea what to expect from Child doing Non-Fiction. But if anyone has something interesting to say about the idea of Hero, it’s gotta be Child, right?

I’m glad I came into it with almost zero expectations because I wouldn’t have guessed this.

Child starts off with a brief discussion of the history of opium, right up to the point where heroin needed to be named.

Then he treats us to a theory of the concept of hero, using a combination of evolutionary theory and speculation, history, and a little more speculation. He begins this look with Neanderthals, so there’s a lot of ground to speed through in a work so brief. Finally, on page 60, we come full circle and get back to heroin before getting to the good stuff.

Child has three definitions of “Hero,” all with separate uses. He then discusses them for a few pages. It’s these last 17 pages or so that we get to the meat of the subject—you could think of the first part of the book as a prolonged introduction (and you’d be a little right).

We get a brief look at The Iliad and The Odessey and their heroes, and even briefer assertion that Dr. No and a work by Ovid about Theseus are the same. I’m not that familiar with Ovid, but given the way we recycle stories now. It’s not too difficult to think that our narrative culture is the only one to be that redundant.

The best part of the book is the several paragraphs looking at the character of Robin Hood. Child looks at how the Outlaw was originally depicted, and then how that grows and changes through time—as well as how the story of Robin Hood added characters and perspectives. By this point, I was starting to hope that the book had just been a few examples like this.

Finally, he talks a little bit about his own understanding and application of the concept and why our contemporary narratives need Heroes.

What is the purpose of fiction? I think it can be summed up in a simple phrase: To give people what they don’t get in real life.

While I did think this was an interesting little book, with a couple of great points and insights. But I’m really looking forward to the next Reacher book—because unlike this dose of real life, it’ll be tightly organized, compelling and a joy to read.

Still, I’d recommend the book—it’s intriguing, thought-provoking, and gives a good look at the way Child thinks. Serious fans would appreciate this for the insight into Child. People interested in the development of Hero might be a bit disappointed overall but will appreciate the last part of the book (maybe I’m the only one who isn’t grabbed by the buildup).


3 Stars

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Just the Clothes on My Back – a collaboration with Lee Child by Naked Blue: Jack Reacher Rocks

Jut the Clothes on My BackJust the Clothes on My Back – a collaboration with Lee Child

by Naked Blue
Series: Jack Reacher


CD, 10 tracks
Bluetick Records, 2018

Mutual fans/friends Naked Blue and Lee Child collaborated on this album — 10 songs from Jack Reacher’s point of view. Well, 9 from his POV and 1 (“Reacher Said Nothing”) that could be the soundtrack for about 90% of the books.

I’ve listened to this album a lot since it came out and I’ thoroughly enjoy it. I think it does a great job capturing the “inner essence” of Reacher (a concept he’d probably boggle at) and delivering it with some great bluesy-rock/Americana tunes. Even if you’re not Reacher-obsessed, or you don’t think about the character the songs hold up just fine — you don’t even have to know anything about the album to appreciate it. But if you are a Reacher fan, you’ll enjoy it a lot more.

“Just the Clothes on My Back” and “Big Man” do great jobs of encapsulating Reacher’s approach to life. “Killing Floor” and “Blessed or Cursed,” are almost as good. All of them have great tunes that get into your head and threaten to take up earworm-like residence.

It’s not all about the action-hero side of Reacher. “The Midnight Line” does a great job of capturing a chapter (or part of one) with the allusions and euphemisms for sex and “Sanctuary,” also does a fine job of recreating the kind of scene in a Reacher book that I skim. This doesn’t mean they’re bad songs, in fact, they’ll be selling points for many. They just don’t work for me.

As for “Reacher Said Nothing”? An almost entirely instrumental piece (with some vocals by Lee Child himself) — how that hasn’t become my ringtone is beyond me. Just love that song.

Now, Jennifer Ferguson Smith might not seem the ideal person to give musical voice to the 6’5″, 210–250 lbs., ex-MP with a 50″ chest, but she somehow pulls it off. The vocals are great — I don’t really know how to describe someone’s singing voice, so I’m not going to try. They match the rootsy-bluesy-rock well. I don’t know if it’s helpful to anyone, but she reminds me of Amy Rigby.

A great album for fans of Reacher. An album that should earn Naked Blue some new fans/listeners. A good album just in and of itself. Give it a whirl.I’m going to give it 4 stars, but based on the way that music like this tends to grow on me, if you ask me in 6-9 months, I’ll probably rate it higher.

—–

4 Stars

Past Tense by Lee Child: If this wasn’t a Reacher book, I’d probably like it more…

Past TensePast Tense

by Lee Child
Series: Jack Reacher, #23


Hardcover, 382 pg.
Delacorte Press, 2018

Read: December 6 – 7, 2018
Shorty and Patty are a young couple from a rural Canadian community on their way to New York City to sell off some beloved possessions in order to make enough money to go to Florida and start their lives. Which sounds like a great idea (assuming they’re not ripped off in NYC) — if only they’d ever done basic maintenance on the car they’re driving. They end up breaking down outside a small town in New Hampshire, nowhere near a decent city.

The owners of a newly refurbished hotel outside town take pity on them and rent them a room for a little cheaper than they should and offer to help with getting their car going again — they even invite them to dinner their first night with them. Yes, I said first night — home repairs aren’t doing the job, so they have to call a tow truck/mechanic to fix the car — which is going to pretty much wipe the couple out. But what choice do they have?

Still, something doesn’t seem right about the whole thing. Shorty’s a trusting guy and rolls with everything that happens, but Patty smells something. She thinks a lot — incidentally, she thinks a lot like Reacher. Which is annoying when you’re reading a book starring Reacher that you get a clone. But it’s good for her and Shorty and just might end up saving their lives. It’d be better for the both of them if she had any of Reacher’s skills other than his ability to analyze a situation, but, I guess you take what you can get.

Meanwhile, Jack Reacher comes into the same town those two are stranded outside of. He was passing near by and on a lark decides to stop in Laconia, his father’s birthplace. He’s never met anyone from that side of the family, and his father said almost nothing about his childhood experiences there. So Reacher’s a bit curious about the town — he doesn’t even know if there might be a cousin or three around. It turns out that finding anything about his family is almost impossible in the official records — and there’s a decent chance that there’s no one around who knows anything about them that’s not in the official records.

While that’s going on, in the middle of the night Reacher encounters an attempted sexual assault and, ahem, dissuades the attacker. This attacker doesn’t press charges or anything, but it turns out that he’s connected to a significant crime family in the Northeast. Reacher is informed about this and is encouraged to leave town soon by a former MP turned local law enforcement officer that he’s become acquainted with. Reacher doesn’t like to be told what to do — by anyone — and there’s something about his father’s past that has him more curious than he’s been before and wants to track that down.

These two stories run independently of each other, while happening very near each other. Reacher does come to the hotel and asks a couple of questions about his quest about the same time that Patty’s getting suspicious, but the two don’t cross paths.

Now, I didn’t right down the page number when Reacher’s story intersects with Shorty’s and Patty’s — but I do know that it hadn’t happened by page 245 (of 382). Which is pretty astounding, and is definitely a new way to bring Reacher into the main events of a novel. I doubt it’s a trick Child can pull off again, but I’d like to see him try. If he doesn’t show up, bad things will happen — and will likely continue to happen — but it’s hard to say just how bad it’d all be. But Reacher does show up, and he does his usual thing, and many more people live than otherwise would have. Which isn’t to suggest that no one dies after he shows up, it’s just that most of them aren’t the people that seemed likely to die 30 pages earlier.

There’s little violence until the end of the book (there’s Reacher’s dissuasion, and two other minor — by Reacher’s standards — fights), but once the fighting starts, it doesn’t stop until there’s a whole lot of violence and bloodshed. Tension and unease that’s been mounting slowly over the whole book, are unleashed – and most of the last twenty percent (or so, I’m just guessing) of the novel is as violent and action-packed as you could hope for. Once that switch is flipped, it’s on.

This wasn’t my favorite Reacher novel — by far — but it was a really engrossing read. I enjoyed it — and really think if Jack Reacher hadn’t been the fly in the ointment for the people trying to manipulate and hurt Shorty and Patty, I think I’d have enjoyed this much more. But I expect more from Lee Child than I do other writers, and this time, I just don’t think he pulled it off. I’m willing to bet he does better next year, and I’ll content myself with that hope.

—–

3.5 Stars2018 Library Love Challenge

The Midnight Line by Lee Child

The Midnight LineThe Midnight Line

by Lee Child
Series: Jack Reacher, #22

Hardcover, 368 pg.
Delacorte Press, 2017

Read: November 23 – 24, 2017

“But this particular guy won’t talk to me?”

“I would be surprised.

“Does he have no manners?”

“I wouldn’t ask him over to a picnic.”

“What’s his name?”

“Jimmy Rat.”

”For real?”

“That’s what he goes by.”

“Where would I find Mr. Rat?”

“Look for a minimum six Hariey-Davidsons. Jimmy will be in whatever bar they‘re outside of.”

Three days after Make Me, Reacher hits the road — and a few hours into that, he’s already trying to track someone down. That conversation leads to the following:

There was a bar in a standalone wooden building, with a patch of weedy gravel for parking, and on the gravel were 7 Harley-Davidsons, all in a neat line. Possibly not actual Hells Angels as such. Possibly one of the many other parallel denominations. Bikers were as split as Baptists. All the same, but different.

(don’t worry, I’m not going to tell the whole story in this detail, I just really enjoyed the writing here).

Reacher goes into the bar and then has a pleasant chat with a member of the local law enforcement community and a productive chat with Mr. Rat. In between those chats he may have engaged in a physical confrontation with the owners of those motorcycles, I’ll let you guess what happened there. It was fun to read, I assure you. What led to him looking for Jimmy the Rat? Pretty simply, he saw a female West Point class ring in a pawn shop window. That’s not an easy thing to earn/deserve. Reacher figures that there’s got to be an interesting story behind such a ring ending up in a pawn shop — and maybe some fellow alumnus needs a hand, one that he can give. Jimmy the Rat is just the first link in a chain of indeterminate length back to this graduate.

Because he’s not an idiot, Jimmy points Reacher in the right direction: a laundromat in Rapid City. Also, because he’s not an idiot, before Reacher is on his way, Jimmy calls in a warning to that laundromat. Jimmy’s a rat, but he’s a survivor, too. This laundromat is owned by a guy named Scorpio, who is absolutely not Rapid City PD’s favorite small-business owner, if they could, they’d shut him down. This warning phone call, they hope, will be the harbinger of something — his downfall, or something to give them enough ammunition to arrange his arrest and downfall. Either way, the PD is fine.

Reacher has a quick conversation with Scorpio, who also points him in a direction. Reacher interacts a bit with a member of the local PD about him, as well — pointing out something that someone should’ve noticed already. There’s a PI who’s also pretty interested in Scorpio, but Reacher doesn’t get to chat with him, at least not then. When he turns up in Wyoming a few hours behind Reacher, on the other hand . . .

Reacher ends up with one of the stranger ad hoc teams he’s had to track down this woman — and the extra-legal steps he has to take to help her aren’t in his normal wheelhouse. But you go the extra mile for some people, and it’s definitely in-character and understandable for him to do what he does. There’s some interesting introspection early-on that I’m not used to seeing, and hope we get more of.

Here’s a major weakness to me (normally, I’d shrug this off, but Child gets held to a higher standard): too many people don’t know what “Bigfoot” is. If this took place in the UK or France or something, I could buy it. But in South Dakota? Sorry, not buying it.

The Midnight Line features more female characters than your typical Reacher novel — and none of them are damsels in distress. Yeah, most of them need a little help — but so do the males. Reacher’s life is even saved by one of the women. These are all strong, confident and capable women — not that the Reacher novels have ever been lacking in that regard, we just don’t normally get that many of them at once.

I don’t keep a spreadsheet or any kind of detailed notes on these things, but this might be one of the least violent Reacher novels ever. Make no mistake, Reacher has not turned into a pacifist and when he needs to punch, elbow, kick or headbutt (so soon after the concussion tests? tsk.) he does so very effectively, but I just think his count is a bit low this time).

Also, thanks Andy Martin, “Reacher said nothing.” now jumps out at me every time it shows up. How it never jumped out at me before, I’ll never know — but wow.

I really enjoyed this — it didn’t blow me away in the same way that Make Me did, but very little does. It was a lot better than Night School, however. Reacher’s knight-errant act is as satisfying as ever — maybe even moreso in this conclusion that features more details on his acts of compassion than his violence (the last violent act happening “off-screen,” although we get to see the aftermath). It was a fast read, full of action, great scenery and believable bad guys. I can’t think of much else to say — Reacher fans should love this, people new to Reacher should finish this with a desire to plunder the back-list, and everyone will start counting the days to #23.

—–

4 Stars
2017 Library Love Challenge

No Middle Name by Lee Child (corrected)

No Middle Name No Middle Name: The Complete Collected Jack Reacher Short Stories

by Lee Child
Series: Jack Reacher

Hardcover, 418 pg.
Random House Publishing Group, 2017

Read: May 31, 2017


Over the years, Lee Child has published a number of short stories/novellas featuring Jack Reacher, and finally they’re all published in one handy collection. Some are available in non-ebook format for the first time, too. Also, we have a brand-new novella to kick things off. For many, this is the first they’ve been able to access them — I haven’t read any of them before, but I’ve listened to most of them in audiobook format.

Now, as I’ve said before, short stories aren’t normally my bag — and that’s very true for the Reacher stories. He just works better in novel-length stories, generally speaking anyway. For those stories I’ve listened to already, my opinion of them didn’t really change as I read them — the couple I liked, I still liked. The others . . . well, I remained unimpressed — it’s good to know that it wasn’t the format or Dick Hill (the narrator) — it really was the length or story.

But enough about that — there are three stories that I want to talk about — the first two are short stories that I really enjoyed. They’re just the right length, which is nice, you don’t feel short-changed. They also don’t feature Reacher that prominently. The first is “James Penney’s New Identity” (which apparently was published in a shorter form originally), it’s a story about a man who’s the victim of changing economic times who has had enough — at a pivotal point for him, he meets Jack Reacher (still in the Army). By his words and actions, Reacher changes the rest of James Penny’s life — and Reacher doesn’t have to fight anyone to do it. This story leaves the reader with more questions than answers — but in a good way.

“Everyone Talks” is written from the POV of a new police detective who has the good(?) fortune to run into Reacher in a professional capacity on her first day. I really liked this one — Reacher was pretty ingenious here dealing with the problem he sticks his nose into in a way that shows more brains than brawn. I think I actually laughed out loud as soon as I realized what he was up to. Pretty clever.

Oddly. there are two Christmas-y stories — I don’t know why I find that so odd, but Reacher doesn’t feel like a Christmas character. I liked, but wasn’t wowed by, both of them.

Obviously, the big thing here is the new novella, Too Much Time. Reacher’s wandering through a town and gets peripherally involved in stopping a petty crime. He allows himself to be cajoled by the police into helping them out for a few minutes afterwards. Things go wrong just a few minutes later. This is as good a novella-length story that I can imagine for Reacher — there’s a pretty good fight, Reacher solving a puzzle while helping the authorities — and keeping himself out of trouble. A little bit cerebral, a little bit thug. The perfect Reacher recipe. If Andy Martin’s book has taught me anything, it’s that there’s some significance to the law enforcement officials having names that start with A, B, C and D. If I was more clever, I’d know why. Still, I liked it a lot.

A nice, solid collection — with some strong stand-outs. Reacher fans need to grab it.

—–

4 Stars

2017 Library Love Challenge

High Heat (Audiobook) by Lee Child, Dick Hill

High HeatHigh Heat

by Lee Child, Dick Hill (Narrator)
Series: Jack Reacher, #17.5
Unabridged Audiobook, 2 hrs., 27 mins.
Random House Audio, 2013

Read: March 16 – 17, 2017


Ahhh, finally — an actually satisfying shorter Jack Reacher story. It’s longer than the others I’ve tried — a novella, not just a short story. That’s probably a lot of it, but there’s something more to it — just don’t ask me what.

Reacher’s on summer vacation before his senior year — pretty much fully grown, has a good head on his shoulders, and is as arrogant and invincible feeling as most teenagers (he’s just big and tough enough to back it up). He’s visiting NYC for the day before going to visit his brother at West Point.

It’s 1977, a summer in NYC known for two things: incredible heat and Son of Sam. Both have an impact on this story (no, Reacher doesn’t stop the killer or anything — phew). Reacher flirts with some college girls, breaks up a fight with a mobster and an undercover FBI agent, survives a blackout, spends some quality time with one of the college girls and helps the FBI agent out — while engaging in a few solid fights.

The action takes place in one night — probably 14 hours or so, but Child manages to cram a lot into those hours. Is it realistic? No, not even by Reacher standards. Is it compelling — yup. Will it keep you interested? Oh, yeah.

Dick Hill sounded to me like he as having a lot of fun reading this one — which is fitting, it’s probably the most “fun” Reacher story I’ve come across (well, maybe the Reacher/Nick Heller story in FaceOff is a little more so). He does his typical job, satisfying in his delivery, keeps you engaged, doesn’t wow with technique.

It’s a fun story, nothing to get excited about, but something that Reacher fans will enjoy, in a complete-feeling story. Good enough for me.

—–

3.5 Stars