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

Deep Down (Audiobook) by Lee Child, Dick Hill

Deep Down Deep Down

by Lee Child, Dick Hill (Narrator)
Series: Jack Reacher, #16.5

Unabridged Audiobook, 1 hr, 43 min.
Random House Audio, 2013

Read: August 4, 2016


Ahh, this is more like it — I was afraid that I was going to have to give up on these shorts to preserve my appreciation for the novels. But Lee Child and Dick Hill pulled it off.

Its the mid-80s, Reacher’s a Captain in the Army and is called to Washington to go undercover as an Army sniper. Someone is leaking information from a Congressional investigation into whether the Army and Marines need a new, super-cutting-edge sniper rifle. The Army’s got it narrowed down to 4 suspects, they want him to narrow it down. Reacher is repeatedly assured that this will just be talking and that there is “no danger.” So, yeah, things are going to get dicey.

The suspects are four women on the fast track to the top of the Army — if not Commander-in-Chief (Child apparently likes the idea of women on the Fast-Track in the Army) — we get to spend a little time getting to know them with Reacher. His handler wants Reacher to try to use his masculine wiles with one or all of them. Reacher has a pretty good idea who is target is, and then plunges in, pretty sure he’ll have to come up with something better than attempting to seduce superior officers.

Interspersed with the early portions of this story are snippets of two different individuals heading toward the center of D.C. — it’s not immediately clear what’s going on with either of them, but you get plenty of opportunities to guess. They do a decent job of increasing the tension, though.

Reacher does get enough clues (naturally) to identify the leak — not only that, he’s able to uncover a whole lot more. Best yet, the book includes a fantastic Reacher fight scene (don’t get me wrong, I love it when he uses his brain, but the last two short stories I listened to didn’t have a lot of action.).

Some of Hill’s female voices leave a little to be desired. But I have no other complaints — good stuff (he has sort of a Stan Lee quality to his voice from time to time — if Child ever made him say “true believers,” I’d flip).

Good, strong story. Capable narration — a great way to spend 100 minutes.

—–

4 Stars

Second Son (Audiobook) by Lee Child, Dick Hill

Second Son Second Son

by Lee Child, Dick Hill (Narrator)
Series: Jack Reacher, #15.5

Unabridged Audiobook, 1 hr, 27 min.
Random House Audio, 2013

Read: July 5, 2016


Okinawa, 1974: the Reacher family is assigned to a miliatry base there and is going through their well-established routine of moving into their new home. Reacher’s brother, Joe, isn’t dealing well with the idea that he’ll have to take a placement test to get into school; Reacher is dealing with a neighborhood bully; their mother is in France as her father dies; and his father is in the middle of a crisis of his own.

It’s a short story (40 pages in text), but it contains all the hallmarks of a standard Reacher tale, just on a smaller scale. It’s sort of cheating, taking a well-established character like Reacher and imagining the mini-version of him. But you know what? This was so fun, I didn’t care.

Dick Hill gives a pretty good performance, but his little Reacher and Joe voices are unintentionally amusing and cartoonish. I bet he’d be fun listening to with a full Reacher novel (particularly if it didn’t feature kids).

Not a great story, but satisfying. Not a great performance, but satisfying. Gets the job done.

—–

3.5 Stars

Small Wars (Audiobook) by Lee Child, Dick Hill

Small Wars Small Wars

by Lee Child, Dick Hill (Narrator)
Series: Jack Reacher, #19.5

Unabridged Audiobook, 1 hr, 30 min.
Random House Audio, 2015

Read: July 5, 2016


Reacher is still in the army for this one, and is pulled from his assignment to take over for an injured MP. Major Reacher’s first job at his new post is to investigate the murder of one of the Pentagon’s fastest rising stars.

To help him out (and to help train his underlings) Reacher gets Frances Neagly assigned to him. This story turns out to be a great spotlight for Neagly, actually. She even gets the big fight! This case hits close to home and ends up revealing a lot more about the Pentagon and the victim than anyone expected.

Dick Hill’s performance was fine — there wasn’t a lot for him to do here, but what he did worked.

This one didn’t work all that well for me — the solution was unsatisfying, and Reacher’s reaction to it might even be worse.

—–

2 Stars

Make Me by Lee Child

Make MeMake Me

by Lee Child
Series: Jack Reacher, #20
Hardcover, 402 pg.

Delacorte Press, 2015

Read: September 22 – 23, 2015

“We should get a cup of coffee.”
Chang said, “I don’t understand how you drink so much coffee.”
“Law of gravity,” Reacher said. “If you tip it up, it comes right out. You can’t help but drink it.”
“Your heart must be thumping all the time.”
“Better than the alternative.”

I’ve got to get that embroidered on a pillow or something…

I’ve said it before, I’ll very likely say it again — it’s really hard to write about Jack Reacher books after a certain point. What can you say? Reacher comes into a town/city/locale, finds himself in the middle of a mess (or sees a mess and puts himself in the middle of it), beats some people up, probably shoots some others, makes sure the bad guys are punished (in one way or another), tries to save as many of the good guys as possible, probably has a brief affair, and then moves on. Same ol’, same ol’ — told in a tight, fast-paced, almost always exciting way. Lather, Rinse, Repeat as needed.

Every now and then you get something a little different — he’s hired to right a wrong/prevent a wrong, we get a flashback to his time in the military, or whatever. But by and large the books follow that pattern. And for the first 200+ pages, that’s exactly what Make Me gave us.

Curious about the name of the town, Mother’s Rest, and full of theories, Reacher rides in on a train to poke around for a couple of days and indulge his curiosity. It’s not like he has anything else to do. He’s briefly mistaken for a retired FBI agent turned private investigator, Keever, who has gone missing. A colleague, Michelle Chang, is also in Mother’s Rest looking for Keever (who she’s never seen in person, obviously). Now Reacher’s curious about a couple of things, and he starts working with Chang to find Keever. The locals don’t like this and threaten violence (naturally, they need to do so en masse for it to work). Par for the course, right?

But then when they start to learn what prompted Keever to be in Mother’s Rest, things get darker than usual. Don’t get me wrong — there’s a lot of real evil to be found in your typical Lee Child villain. But on the whole, they’re nothing that you can’t find in many mystery/thriller novels/tv shows/etc. Every now and then, however, you get something worse. While it takes a really long time to find out what’s worse about the villains in this novel, once the pieces start to come together — scratch that, when you start to see the pieces, you can tell there’s something twisted and vile going on here. That hunch gets more and more intense each chapter. Until all is revealed and you start to wonder if you left Lee Child behind and wandered into a Thomas Harris or Val McDermid novel.

There will be extended descriptions in a Reacher novel that are this strange mix of repugnant and fascinating — whether he’s describing the mechanism of a particular gun firing, the way a certain punch will affect both the puncher and the punchee, how a particular bone will break, or what have you. But the symposium on suicide methods and Internet culture around them just might have set a new high (or is it low?). Riveting and horrifying.

This book also contains something I’ve never seen in a Reacher novel before. I can’t get into it, but that Child would put Reacher in a situation like this impressed me almost as much as it surprised me.

I’m not 100% convinced this is a 5-star book, but if any Reacher novel is worth it, it’s this one. There are so many of the typical Reacher elements that are tweaked, played with, or broken here — all while telling a heckuva tale, remaining consistent with the character and world. Long time fans will really enjoy this. New readers will want to get their hands on as many of the rest as they can. And all of us will get really frustrated that we have to wait 12 or so months for Jack Reacher #21.

—–

5 Stars

Personal by Lee Child

Personal (Jack Reacher, #19)Personal

by Lee Child
Series: Jack Reacher, #19

Hardcover, 353 pg.
Delacorte Press, 2014
Read: November 10 – 11, 2014Someone took a pot-shot at the French president — and by pot-shot, I mean “almost impossible” sniper shot — it didn’t work, didn’t even break the “invisible armor” glass in front of him. But still, bad form, and people are expected to do something about that. Various and sundry intelligence agencies across the globe come up with a short list of snipers capable of making the shot. Disturbingly enough, most of them are employed by various and sundry nations across the world, but there’s a small handful that are just tracked (almost infallibly) by the same groups.

In this case, there were four unaccounted for at the time of the shooting. A British sniper, a Russian sniper, an American, and (I think) a French sniper (clearly doesn’t matter…minor spoiler). Each respective government gets someone to track down their potential suspect. Once upon a time, MP Jack Reacher arrested the American. So someone in the upper echelons of the Army reached out to Reacher in some cloak and dagger-y way to get him involved in tracking down the U. S. sniper.

Reacher has nothing better to do — no longer on his mission to meet Maj. Susan Turner (and wasn’t really given a choice, anyway) — and he owes the Brig. General. So “Sherlock Homeless,” as he’s been dubbed by the Army, heads off to Arkansas, Paris and London to track down his prey. The requisite purchases of replacement clothing, fights, and Reacher-ness ensues.

There was one particular highlight for me. There’s a London gangster, Little Joey — a giant of a man, makes look Reacher look like . . . well, like Tom Cruise standing next to the book’s version of Jack Reacher — Reacher’s initial internal description of him makes the whole book worth reading.

The most disturbing thing about this book is the constant, universal, assumption that governments will cover up, manipulate media and spy on everyone they choose to. In other novels — Gone Tomorrow jumps to mind as the best example — Reacher’s resented this kind of thing, complained about it. But this time, he uses it, takes it for granted — this could just be Reacher the pragmatist and we could get a return to form next time. But the way that everyone else — no matter their nationality or role in the investigation — assumes this, and doesn’t care about it, disturbed me. Mostly because I figure it’s fairly realistic.

The first few chapters are riddled with Reacher describing himself as “Predictable.” And, yeah, he is — both in his world and as a character in novels. He’s going to act a certain way, he’s going to shoot, punch, elbow and kick a certain amount of people. He will win the day, leave a few bodies in his wake, and at least charm a lady or two along the way (at his most chaste). Predictable. But satisfying. Scratching a particular itch for readers in a way only Lee Child can.

This seems to be a pretty divisive book amongst fans, for reasons I don’t particularly understand — on the whole the complaints I’ve seen about this one could be applied to 12-15 of the others, it’s just the way Child works. Maybe my expectations are different than others, but this one checked all my “Reacher” boxes and provided a few hours of entertainment.

Predictable can just be another word for Reliable.

—–

4 Stars

FaceOff by David Baldacci, ed.

FaceOffFaceOff

by David Baldacci

Hardcover, 384 pg.
Simon & Schuster, 2014
Read: July 15-25, 2014

When I was a kid, one of the go-to moves to increase circulation/awareness of a comic book title was to have it cross-over with another title. Or if you had two already well-selling titles, and you wanted a little spike in the selling, that’d work, too (particularly if one title was from DC and the other from Marvel). I, as I was supposed to, grabbed a lot of these. They tended to follow a pattern — Group/Individual A runs into Group/Individual B, for no explicable reason they start to fight. Eventually, they figure out they’re all heroes fighting for good and turn their collective energies to defeating the bad guys. This was fine, because it let you see who would win in a fight — Thor or Superman (answer: neither), Halo or Starfire — that kind of thing.

That’s what a lot of these stories reminded me of — classic cross-over tales, and many fit that pattern. Which was okay, but thankfully not all of them did. At the end of the day, there were 2 stories I wanted to read, a couple of others that I was somewhat interested in, and the rest — well, might as well take a look at them, as long as I had the book. I picked up a couple of new names to try — and a couple to avoid. All in all, this was a mixed bag.

    Some specific thoughts:

  • Red Eye by Michael Connelly and Dennis Lehane (Harry Bosch vs. Patrick Kenzie)
    This first story was the primary motivation for me to get my hands on this book. Two of my all-time, personal Hall of Fame characters together. The story was a bit . . . meh. The criminal was definitely in the wheelhouse for both Kenzie and Bosch, but it was a little too easy to find him — and once the two detectives decided to work together, the solution was a bit too quick and easy (yet just the kind of ending that I could see either character coming up with on their own — so together it absolutely made sense). I’m pretty sure (without taking the time to verify) that this was the shortest story in the collection, and it needed at least another 10 pages to be satisfactory. Still, I’m putting this down as a winner.
  • In the Nick of Time by Ian Rankin and Peter James (John Rebus vs. Roy Grace)
    This was so dull, so predictable, no actual detective work was done here — all of it happened “off screen” so to speak. Maybe, maybe if you liked Rebus or Grace on their own, this would appeal to you. But even then, yawn.
  • Gaslighted by R.L. Stine, Douglas Preston, and Lincoln Child (Slappy the Ventriloquist Dummy vs. Aloysius Pendergast)
    I think you’d need a lot more familiarity with these characters (particularly Pendergast) to enjoy this one — really to understand it all.
  • The Laughing Buddha by M.J. Rose and Lisa Gardner (Malachai Samuels vs. D.D. Warren)
    Okay, after two novels and now one short story, I still don’t see what D. D. Warren brings to anything. Did she do much at all here? It was an interesting enough story, and if I hadn’t spent so much time waiting for Warren to do something, I might have enjoyed it more. Then again, I’m not sure how much I can buy the whole setup for Samuels’ character.
  • Surfing the Panther by Steve Martini and Linda Fairstein (Paul Madriani vs. Alexandra Cooper)
    Neither one of these lawyer characters appeared all that terribly interesting — but the crime in question, the way it was presented, and the solution to it? That made this one worthwhile. Very clever stuff (even if, again, most of the action took place off-screen).
  • Rhymes With Prey by Jeffery Deaver and John Sandford (Lincoln Rhyme vs. Lucas Davenport)
    Early on in the story, I jotted in my notes, “What this story really needs are more unfamiliar characters whose names start with an ‘L’.” But once I got past that, it was probably the most complex and compelling story in the book and the most likely to provoke further reading — I’m interested in following up with both series. Not sure it’ll happen soon, but it’ll happen.
  • Infernal Night by Heather Graham and F. Paul Wilson (Michael Quinn vs. Repairman Jack)
    Doubt I’ll misquote the “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” line again, because like Repairman Jack, I “just like to get things right.” After reading the introduction, I wasn’t at all interested in these characters. But the story intrigued me, and I’m pretty sure I’ll check out both series. I have one friend I really see getting into Repairman Jack. The story was creepy and cool. And slightly predictable. But still, creepy and cool.
  • Pit Stop by Raymond Khoury and Linwood Barclay (Sean Reilly vs. Glen Garber)
    Perfect start to this kind of story – – killer first sentence, and the closing sentence of the first section is almost as compelling. The ending wasn’t as good as wanted it to be, but it seemed like they needed an easy ending or another fifty pages — so easy ending, it had to be. The stuff in the middle was pretty fun. Garber’s daughter is the coolest little girl this side of space/time constraints. Garner’s daughter is the coolest little girl this side of Flavia de Luce.
  • Silent Hunt by John Lescroart and T. Jefferson Parker (Wyatt Hunt vs. Joe Trona)
    A couple of law enforcement guys on fishing vacations. Didn’t do much for me — my guess is that fans of Hunt and Trona would probably enjoy this, like I did with Bosch and Kenzie. More for the experience of seeing the two together rather than for the strength of this pretty tired tale.
  • The Devil’s Bones by Steve Berry and James Rollins (Cotton Malone vs. Gray Pierce)
    The way their target talked was the only false note in this action-packed story. And man, oh man, was it false. But the action, the interplay between Malone and Pierece, the story, everything else worked really, really well. One of the best things in this book.
  • Good and Valuable Consideration by Lee Child and Joseph Finder (Jack Reacher vs. Nick Heller)
    I’ve never read Finder before, but probably will now (of any in this book, he’ll probably be first). I loved this one, it may not be the best-written story in the collection, but it’s my favorite. Funny (very), yet true to Reacher’s almost-never funny character (and I assume also true to Heller’s). The banter and cooperation between the two was great. The way they came to a consensus without speaking about how to help the poor guy they met in the bar brought a smile to my face. It was a decent story, too, but one of those that didn’t have to be, because the character work was so fun. It was the perfect thing to close this with.

So again, your results may vary — but overall, a worthwhile read — some real highs, and some moderate lows. Good fodder for a TBR list.

—–

3 Stars