Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 September 2014

61 Hours, By Lee Child

Is Jack Reacher dead or alive? I only ask. He's had a good run. He is 13 novels old. 61 Hours is his 14th outing in Lee Child's series.

Perhaps that time-frame corresponds to how long it has taken to read that many novels. Or, possibly, how long it took to write them (hey, just kidding, Jack, don't hit me with those cauliflower-sized fists!).

In a scrupulous Reacher-esque way, let us consider the evidence. I am setting aside all matters to do with the efficient plot and the mysterious ending. Jack Reacher is a hard man to kill off. He generally manages to despatch – usually unarmed – a large number of adversaries. There is one delirious scene in this book where he outfaces approximately one hundred bad guys (seriously).

You can see why Hollywood has been relatively slow to put Reacher on screen. No leading man is really big enough to fill his size 15 boots. He is six-foot five with muscles the size of very large muscles. No kung fu, no magic wands: he just beats the living daylights out of anyone who get in his way, while remaining as nice as pie to animals and old ladies.

On the other hand, there is a definite "lion in winter" feel to the proceedings. Reacher is stuck on a bus somewhere – or more like nowhere – in South Dakota in the middle of winter. The snow falls relentlessly throughout.

Our hero is punished for his slackness in the clothing department and is freezing almost from start to (dare I say) finish, except for occasional roaring fires and one full-on inferno. There is one very nasty moment (for anyone who agrees with George Orwell when he says, "I don't mind getting shot but I hate to get cold") where the villain strips him of the poor pathetic parka he has borrowed.

Then there is a degree of chill creeping into the obligatory erotic encounter. Reacher, for anyone who has not come across him yet, is more or less irresistible to women. But this particular liaison is limited to the oral form (if that is not quite clear enough, read it and find out). There are one or two other seemingly insignificant forensic traces I could mention. "Yet" is one of them. A small thing.

Yet.

Lee Child has made a career out of the short sentence. Followed by another. Short. Sentence. Yet... I believe this may be the first time he has resorted to the one paragraph "yet". It may not be quite all over, but I can't help feeling that this signals some kind of beginning of the end.

And then there is "wry", notably in association with the word "smile". Not that there is anything wrong with a wry smile, I hasten to add, with a wry smile. But when your protagonist succumbs to the "wry smile" syndrome, again, you can't help but feel that this is verging on stylistic euthanasia.

Qualms notwithstanding, it is always a pleasure to read another Jack Reacher novel. A kind of highlight of the year, really. There is only one downside. It's all the other people hanging around your house saying things like, "Oy! Haven't you finished with the Reacher yet?" Or should I say...

Yet?

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