Friday September 28, 2012
Book review: A Wanted Man
Review by MARTIN SPICE
The plotting is intricate, the pace is unrelenting, the dialogue is sharp, and the hero is as appealing as ever. What more could you ask for from a thriller?
A Wanted Man
Author: Lee Child
Publisher: Bantam Press, 429 pages
IT is estimated that a Jack Reacher novel is sold somewhere in the world roughly every four seconds, which brings the total number sold to somewhere around 60 million plus, depending on how much time has elapsed between my writing this and you reading it.
The phenomenal success of Lee Child’s 17-book (and counting) series is not hard to fathom.
All-American Jack Reacher is the rough diamond good guy, the ex-army policeman with a simple thirst for justice and, on occasion, retribution. Reacher does not like the bad guys and he has no problems with dispatching them, with his bare hands if necessary. He’s a loner, a drifter, a man whose only baggage is psychological and there doesn’t seem to be too much of that. In other words, he’s the good outlaw writ large.
But a good protagonist is not much use without a good creator and Child’s skills extend beyond simply creating an appealingly macho hero. He is, for a start, a very good plotter. Good old fashioned storytelling is an underrated art and on the evidence of his latest book, A Wanted Man, Child is something of a master.
“Couldn’t put it down” and “a page-turner” are probably overused terms of commendation but for once they are well-placed. Almost irritatingly, I found myself constantly wanting to get back to A Wanted Man simply to find out what happened. You know, that feeling of “just another chapter, just another few pages”? Well, you have been warned!
In this episode of Reacher’s life he is travelling through the state of Nebraska on his way to Virginia to meet an unspecified woman whose voice appealed to him.
He is hitch-hiking. As he stands on the slipway counting the cars that go past, he wonders whether to remove the plaster from his badly damaged nose with a fast rip or a slow peel. He opts for the fast peel, “cuts re-opened, the swelling lifted and moved, the fracture itself clicked and ground”... And I am going to pause there just for a second to draw attention to the good writing there – swelling lifted and moved, fracture clicked and ground – these are not the obvious expressions and the writing is the better for it. And I bet you flinched.
It is not too long before Reacher is picked up by a car containing two men and a woman. As they are all similarly dressed, Reacher speculates that they are business partners or fellow employees who have attended some sort of work related convention. But the longer he remains in the car the odder the atmosphere and the relationships become, Reacher picking up on the little expressions in the conversation that suggest all is not as it seems.
Cue the parallel story of a murder in a small town in Nebraska and the reader begins to get a sense of where the book is going. While drama unfolds in the car, the county sheriff is investigating a killing that has some disturbing indications of being an assassination. Three men walk into a concrete bunker; two walk out. “This was not a dispute or a scuffle that had gotten out of hand. This was professional stuff, straight from the major leagues. Which was rare in Nebraska.” So he calls the FBI and his call is taken up by Special Agent Julia Sorenson.
With his major players in place, Child takes the reader on a breathless ride that knits the two scenes ever closer together and leads to a remote abandoned weapons storage facility, a group of Syrian terrorists and the CIA. I won’t tell you more but the finale was for me the least satisfying part of the book although it was, I suppose, also the inevitable climax.
That notwithstanding, A Wanted Man is a very good read, and all the more topical as plans have been announced to make a major film, just called Jack Reacher, in which our eponymous hero will be played by ... Tom Cruise.
Yes, Jack Reacher, our six foot five and 250lb rough neck is going to be played by Hollywood’s smallest leading man who always looks as though he has just come out of the shower and the beauty parlour. He does good action movies, Cruise, but as Jack Reacher? I think a lot of fans are going to be upset. Oh for a rejuvenated Clint Eastwood!
But putting the movie to one side, Reacher fans are not going to be disappointed by this latest offering and readers coming to Child anew may be pleasantly surprised.
The plotting is intricate, the pace is unrelenting, the dialogue is sharp and Reacher is as appealing as ever. For a holiday treat or a wet weekend, you really can’t ask for much more.