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

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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

Not a Drill (Audiobook) by Lee Child, Dick Hill

Not a DrillNot a Drill

by Lee Child, Dick Hill (Narrator)
Series: Jack Reacher, #18.5
Unabridged Audiobook, 1 hr., 27 min.
Random House Audio, 2014

Read: March 14, 2017


Reacher sets out for the Canadian border, to make it as far north on this Interstate as possible, just because. Not too far south from there, he stops in a tourist-y town, a haven for backpackers, hikers, wilderness types in general. Before he leaves, a whole lot of military types show up and block access to the forest from the town (well, they try to — the forest is pretty big, it’s impossible to block access to the whole thing).

This gets Reacher’s curiosity piqued and he starts poking around to see if he can understand why.

I don’t want to sound bloodthirsty here, but not a single fight. No threat of violence breaking out. Mostly, it’s Reacher walking around and observing things before making a heck of a guess/deduction that proved to be right.

Dark, cynical ending — one of Child’s more political statements.

Hill was okay, not terribly interesting, but I think that’s Child’s fault this time.

It’s not bad. It’s just disappointing, short and . . . bleh. Proof that they can’t all be winners, I guess.

—–

2 1/2 Stars

Night School by Lee Child

Night SchoolNight School

by Lee Child
Series: Jack Reacher, #21

Hardcover, 369 pg.
Delacorte Press, 2016

Read: January 5, 2016

One of the strengths of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series is the way it bounces around in time — sometimes it’s Reacher’s post-military life, sometimes it’s while he’s serving, sometimes you get a couple of books in a row that are clearly tied together, sometimes it’s impossible to tell what chronological relationship a book has to the rest. The central character is what matters — is Reacher essentially the man we met in Killing Floor? As long as the answer is, “yes,” the rest of the details don’t matter that much.

So, following a successful classified mission, Major Jack Reacher is assigned to a training school. Which is just a flimsy cover for an inter-agency task force with Reacher, a FBI agent and a CIA analyst. The Intelligence and Defense world is trying to adjust to a post-Cold War reality, looking towards Middle East threats, rather than the Warsaw Pact. An undercover operative has indicated that something very big is on the verge of happening — no one is certain what, where, or when — but they know that a lot of money is exchanging hands to lead to it.

The White House’s directive is simple: find out what’s afoot and stop it. Whatever it takes.

Since this is Army-era Reacher, first thing he needs is Sgt. Frances Neagley, who continues to be just about as smart, possibly tougher, and more resourceful than Reacher. The CIA analyst and FBI agent are involved, but it doesn’t take long for Reacher to go his own way (with Neagley half a step behind). The other direction makes sense, but this is a Jack Reacher novel, so you know he’s right.

It’s a race against time and unknown calamity in a tense and taut thriller — just what Reacher fans want and expect. Not perfect, but a heckuva ride.

The thing that ties everything together for Reacher, allowing him to figure out what how the target pulled off what he pulled off was both entirely plausible and entirely hard to swallow. I have a hard time believing that no one before Reacher (or the target) figured it out before them. Even in the moment, with momentum driving the plot forward at top speed, I had to roll my eyes at it.

Despite the presence of Sgt. Neagley, Army-era Reacher books don’t work as well for me. He’s far better as a nomad, answerable to no one (save the occasional employer), not under any orders or required to follow certain regulations. Yes, given the setup for this one, he is able to disregard Army SOP, but only so much.

I liked it, but didn’t love it. I had a lot of fun, and was engaged throughout. But it was a little bit of a let-down after Make Me. A mediocre Reacher is still better than so many books — and this was both mediocre and better — I’m glad I read this, and can’t imagine how anyone who likes a suspense/thriller novel wouldn’t. Still, Child is capable of more, and I hope he delivers that next time.

—–

3.5 Stars

2017 Library Love Challenge