Friday, September 20, 2013

Lee Child's Never Go Back: Jack Reacher Returns

Never Go Back, Lee Child’s 18th Jack Reacher novel, is just like its predecessors, at least in the broad strokes: Our wandering hero finds himself in deep trouble, meets good people and bad, helps the good and kicks ass on the bad. What is noteworthy about this one for the many, many fans of Child’s thrillers is that Reacher finally makes contact with Major Susan Turner, new head of the 110th MP Special Unit, Reacher’s old command. In the earlier novel 61 Hours, Turner was no more than an attractive voice on the telephone, a voice Reacher describes as "warm, a little husky, a little breathy, a little intimate," and whom he was determined to meet in person.

But the meeting is not what Reacher expected. After making his way from South Dakota to the Virginia headquarters of the 110th, as close to a home as Reacher has ever had – there is a legendary dent in his old desk, where he once bounced his commanding officer’s head – Reacher finds someone else in the unit commander’s office, a nasty piece of work named Lt. Col. Morgan. Reacher receives two pieces of bad news: a 16-year-old incident has somehow resulted in a murder complaint against him, and he is the subject of a paternity suit from a woman he’s never heard of. Furthermore, Susan Turner has been charged with taking a $100,000 bribe, arrested and jailed. 

So, the first order of business for Reacher is to break Susan – whom he still hasn’t met in person, remember out of prison, which he does ... by, well, being sent to prison. This escape also requires some slick manipulation of the prison guards and his and Susan’s lawyers. Then it’s a cross-country chase: Reacher and Turner must stay one step ahead of their pursuers, or on those occasions when the pursuers manage to catch up, often with intel provided by “Romeo” and “Juliet” (two highly placed Army officers, whose actions are traitorous and whose motives are a mystery) kick some bad-guy ass. 

Reacher and Turner are crossing the country because Reacher wants to meet the daughter he is alleged to have fathered, and not incidentally to find out exactly what happened 16 years before with Juan Rodriguez, who is said to have died as the result or a beating administered by Reacher. 

One of the more interesting characters in the novel is Samantha Dayton, the daughter Reacher may have fathered with a woman he is said to have met in Korea 14 years before. She looks and acts the part – tall for her age, blond, clever, interested in words and policing, the possessor of good protective instincts – and Reacher likes her. He’d like to help her and protect her. 

Novelist Lee Child (Photo by Sigrid Estrada)
Memorable scenes: Right at the beginning of the novel, two beefy young soldiers tell Reacher to move on, keep running; he dents the front doors of their car with their heads, which becomes a sort of ongoing joke during the chase. On the run, Reacher and Turner need funds and a vehicle; a burning meth lab provides them with both, though the car – a Corvette ragtop – turns out to be a sort of problem. (And, “How is a fire in a meth lab the same as a redneck divorce?” Reacher asks Turner. “I don’t know,” she says. “Someone’s gonna lose a trailer.”) On the plane to L.A., Reacher disables the two men who are following them. The top bad guys speak:

“Reacher got to them on the plane,” Juliet tells Romeo. “He put them out of action and stole their wallets.”

“On the plane?”

“He broke Lozano’s fingers and Baldacci’s arms and no one noticed.”

“That’s not possible.”

“Apparently it is. One against two, on an airplane, with a hundred witnesses. It’s a blatant humiliation. And now he’s renting cars on our dime? Who does this guy think he is?”

In Los Angeles and with the ongoing assistance of Turner’s loyal Sergeant Roach – the fugitive couple assume a watching brief on Samantha, track down the lawyer who stick-handled the Juan Rodriguez deposition, and face off with the bad guys who have been sent to take them out.

The relationship between Reacher and Samantha is one of the many delights of the book, as is the relationship between Reacher and Susan Turner. How do these relationships proceed? Can’t tell you. It’s enough to say that the good guys win and the bad guys lose, big time. And there’s enough of a twist at the end to keep readers guessing. If you want to know more than that, you’ll just have to read the book. 

– Jack Kirchhoff is an arts writer and editor in Toronto.

1 comment:

  1. Very nice review - thank you. I've never read any of Child's books, and if it wasn't for listening to Elaine Charles (host of the Book report radio show) interviewing the author I wouldn't have known any better. The Reacher character seems almost too good to be true (which is why fiction is soooo good), but what I want to know is whether all his books are stand-alone, or if I should start at the very beginning?