New Jack Reacher thriller Make Me is a brilliantly tense read
With more than 70 million books sold and a $200m-plus grossing movie starring Tom Cruise already in the can (and another on the way), few people won't have heard of Jack Reacher.
Born out of desperation 20 years ago when author Lee Child, whose real name is Jim Grant, was fired from his Granada Television job in the UK, Reacher is probably the most popular hero in modern crime fiction. Child's rugged creation - a 6ft 5in, 250lb former US Army policeman-turned-drifter who is somehow a lightning rod for trouble - is seen by his myriad fans as a knight in shining armour travelling the back roads of America dispensing rough justice to evil-doers the police can't or won't touch.
Make Me is the 20th book in the series. It opens as Reacher steps off a train bound for Chicago in a little town called Mother's Rest in the heartland of America's corn belt. He is intrigued by the name and figures there must be a little museum or, at the very least, a plaque that explains the story behind the name. To his surprise, he is met with suspicion and outright hostility from the townspeople.
He meets up with a former FBI agent-turned-private investigator, Michelle Chang, who is looking for her partner and their client's son, who have apparently disappeared without trace in this speck in the middle of a sea of ripening corn. Reacher decides to help her and with only the slimmest of clues - a note that reads "200 dead" - they follow leads that take them to Chicago, San Francisco and Arizona, encountering deadly opposition at every turn before returning to Mother's Rest and an apocalyptic denouement.
At the core of this Reacher adventure is an exploration of the Deep Web, the dark underworld of the internet populated by criminals of all kinds and where truly terrible things happen. The crimes committed by the people Reacher and Chang are searching for are truly awful, but, unfortunately, only too believable.
Child's success has been built on a well-defined formula in which the reader is introduced to the villain of the piece in the first few pages and then follows Reacher's ups and downs in his efforts to dispense his kind of justice, step by step, to a satisfying conclusion.
Make Me, however, is very different. Reacher and reader alike haven't a clue as to who or what is behind all the mayhem until well into the second half of the book.
Risky, yes, but it works as it intensifies the tension brilliantly. There are other differences, too. For the first time, Reacher is shown to have physical and emotional vulnerabilities - his relationship with Michelle Chang is a lot more intense that with previous lovers. This is Child and Reacher at their best.
By Lee Child
Bantam Press, £20