If every Jack Reacher novel is a movie waiting to be made, then from that perspective, a collection of Reacher short fiction is a reel of trailers, clips and “making of” featurettes.
All things considered, a suitable description for this volume, which rounds up author Lee Child’s shorter works featuring his ex-military-policeman-turned-drifter hero, previously available elsewhere except for one new story.
Since we have a few months to go before this year’s “Reacher feature” (The Midnight Line) is released, what better way to kick back and pass an afternoon or two while we wait than with our faces buried in No Middle Name?
With the last few Reacher novels being hit-or-miss – Personal was breathtaking, Make Me was cool, Night School just okay – I have to say this collection turned out better than expected.
Opening with an all-new novella “Too Much Time”, the collection stumbles a bit out of the gate. It might seem that Reacher, in his old(er) age, is getting careless, shooting off his mouth and landing himself in trouble after stopping what seems to be a simple snatch theft.
It could also be that the author himself is forgetting some of the “Reacher’s rules” he established for the generally laconic and guarded Reacher.
But at least I found most of the subsequent tales to be gripping reads; all the stories here were new to me, since I’ve never come across any of the shorter Reacher works before.
The great thing about No Middle Name is that the stories take place at various points in Reacher’s life, and indeed, a couple of the best ones are set in his teenage years: one at 13 and the other at that Sound Of Music age, 16 going on 17.
Reacher at 13 is “an engineer’s napkin sketch” of the man he will become, but beyond his physical appearance, this story – Second Son – was somehow the most affecting of the bunch.
Part of you feels somewhat sorry for the recently-teen Reacher, in the cold and methodical way he takes on a neighbourhood bully AND solves the mystery of a missing folder that could get his father up on charges. Sorry, because you don’t see much of a childhood leading up to this point, and certainly a hard-edged adolescence looming for Reacher.
Yet it is quite intricately crafted, the passages nicely interwoven with a subplot of Reacher’s maternal grandfather reaching the close of his life.
Equally fascinating is “High Heat”, where the almost-17 Reacher wanders into New York City and gets mixed up with the mob and a disgraced FBI agent … and also manages some face time (kind of) with a notorious late-1970s resident of the city.
The longer of the stories here will hold you fascinated for a couple of hours a pop, at least. The really short ones are a mix of amusing and forgettable.
In fact, if “Guy Walks Into A Bar” sounds like the set-up for a joke, well yes, it comes complete with a punchline (Reacher style, of course).
Overall, No Middle Name is a really entertaining compilation that shows Child spinning yarns at a canter, stretching but not often flexing his literary muscle, to nicely fill in gaps that we never realised existed in Reacher’s near-mythical nature.
No Middle Name
Author: Lee Child
Publisher: Bantam Press, short stories