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

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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

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