I’ve been a fan of Jack Reacher for several years now. Heck, I even liked the movies, although Tom Cruise is clearly lacking the physics of the True Jack Reacher. (Then again, Conan the Barbarian worked well with Arnie – although the literary Conan has black hair and blue eyes, and no Austrian accent. Sometimes you have to distinguish between the pen persona and the screen persona of a hero.)
Reacher works so well as a character because he’s justice on legs. He’s big and mighty, and he helps the little people. That’s why he’s so appealing as a hero. The novels on the other hand are working so well because Lee Child is a master of the plot twist, and also of awareness and deduction and perception. Reacher is a guy that might look like a brute, but he notices things silently. He’s a little like Sherlock Holmes, but not so blatant. He’s doing the silent deductions.
There has been a lot of anticipation surrounding the last novel, the first Lee’s brother was co-writing. This is the second novel of this transition, seeing Lee handing Jack over to his brother. (It was either that or killing Reacher.) It might be the last co-authored Reacher novel. So it’s a highly anticipated and rather special novel.
It’s also special for a different reason – while it starts with an all knowing narrator (and the beginning looks pretty much like Lee decided to really kill Reacher this time – be still, my heart!), It soon turns into a first person narrated novel. It’s how this series started (way back with Killing Floor), but it remained a special treat after that. Only a really small number of tales in this series are told by Reacher himself, and I am happy to see one added to the count. Because being inside Reacher’s head is always a great joy to me as a reader.
Good news is – this book is reminiscent of Reacher in his best days. I can’t be sure how much of this is Lee and how much of it is Andrew, but if this is going to set the mark on Andrew’s version of Reacher, then I’m fine with the transition between the authors. If it says Reacher on the cover, then there’s Reacher inside. Supplying his own brand of justice. Generously.
Watching revenge movies is one of my guilty pleasures, and reading a Reacher novel is pretty much the literary equivalent. And Better off Dead is no exception, by far! Following the usual pattern, Reacher starts out mildly interested and kind of emotionless about the bad guys. Until someone really pisses him off.
So, the new Reacher. I like him. Plot twist? Superb. Could not see that one coming. But there is one point nagging me. One thing that’s inconsistent.
Reacher has always been about efficiency. His final fight with a certain brute – not relatable. Because he could have been (and should have been) armed. Taking on a bigger opponent bare handed when you could simply shoot him is a typical Hollywood move. It’s stupid heroism. But Reacher is neither a hero (not according to himself), nor is he stupid. He always fights dirty (because, as he once told, all his teachers had been fighting dirty; those who didn’t weren’t around anymore to do some teaching). So I think here was an unnecessary Hollywood moment, and I highly encourage Andrew to forget about that stuff. Get Reacher back to his old form. (Just think about the first Indiana Jones movie where that guy’s trying to attack Indy with his sword, and Indy simply pulls his gun and shoots the guy.)