Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Lee Child, NOTHING TO LOSE: Jack Reacher Goes West

Lee Child's new Jack Reacher novel is a gem of a thriller, intense, probing, and classic. The title NOTHING TO LOSE suggests the condition Reacher's in at this point in his post-military-police life: carrying only a handful of possessions, rootless, unconnected. And if you're about my age ("mid-life") it's also an echo of a Janis Joplin lyric: "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose." Reacher is about as free as a human can be. Except -- well, he's tied to his moral code. And when he sniffs the wrongness in the air in the Western town of Despair -- a few miles from the town of Hope -- he can't leave it alone.

Why is there an Army post guarding a metals recycling plant? What brings young women and their quickly vanished husbands to the little motel in Hope? Does a belief in the Rapture cause people to act in irrational ways that endanger others?

Child's pace is rapid, and his skills are highly honed. Dark though Reacher's life is and frightening though the mystery of the two towns can be, there are glimmers of gold dust in how some people treat Reacher, and in how he chooses to help out. A town cop in Hope, a woman with secrets, reluctantly joins him in investigating the disappearances and the bizarre behavior that emanates from living in Despair. How does he convince her?

Files full of dead people and missing people. Some mourned, some not.

He thought of Lucy Anderson, called Lucky by her friends. The night before, in the diner. He recalled the way she had wrung her hands. He looked across at Vaughn and said, "It is our problem, kind of. The kid might have people worried about him.

Vaughn nodded.

Parable? Yes, I suppose it is. But depending on where you choose to tell your own story, that too could be a parable. In the hands of Lee Child, life and death are choices, too.

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