All those years on the road, thumbing rides and sleeping in motels seem to be taking a toll on Jack Reacher.
In this 22nd novel, Lee Child shows us a side to his wandering avenger ex-Military Policeman hero that, while not really making him vulnerable, shows more than a few cracks in that formidable granite surface.
Blame it on a sudden breakup (the book picks up right after 2015’s Make Me, Jack Reacher #20) that makes him think a little more about his rootless existence.
Did his lack of luggage leave him saddled with a different sort of baggage?
What other opportunities did he miss by living life as he has all these years? Of course, any long-time Reacher reader knows some of these – we just didn’t figure he would dwell on such things.
As a result, the Jack Reacher of The Midnight Line – still as much a force of nature as he ever was – is now like a tornado that actually stops here and there to look back at where it has been and what it has wrought.
This may sound like a negative, but it actually lends another dimension to a character whose life philosophy is a cracked mirror of today’s massive human displacement and social detachment, and it makes him somehow more relevant than ever.
Which is a good thing, because this strengthening of the reader’s connection with Reacher makes up for the book being relatively short on action (this, despite a doozy of a brawl that occurs fairly early on).
Another thing that helps is Child’s carefully measured pacing of the book’s core mystery, where the intrigue lies in how the author actually makes us care enough to find out just what in the blue hell is going on with, oh, most of the characters who aren’t Jack Reacher.
The Midnight Line is all about Reacher trying to trace the owner of a West Point ring he sees in a pawnshop window.
Being a West Pointer himself, he knows what its owner – a woman, he figures from the really small ring – went through to get it, and that pawning it would be an act of true desperation.
So his curiosity is piqued enough to send him across a couple of states to find out, and the trail leads to, and through, some unsavoury characters.
There is also a mixed bag of supporting sympathetic characters, at least one of whom comes on to Reacher. It wouldn’t be a Reacher book otherwise.
And en route to the truth behind the pawned ring, Child paints a rather sympathetic picture towards a segment of the population for whom most people rarely have any sympathy.
The book adopts a very understanding stance and – delivering its perspective through the sagacious main character – may therefore come across as maybe a little too left-leaning in its chill-pill attitude to a growing problem.
Another good thing about it is that Child allows some of the supporting and even incidental characters to do a bit of the heavy lifting, when it comes to solving puzzles and piecing together clues, so the passages without the main man are actually interesting too.
Again, a solid read that’s a little better than last year’s Night School, but not quite as page-turning as Make Me.
I have to take issue with the main villain, though. In addition to being thinly developed, he is pop-culturally hip enough to refer to Reacher as “The Incredible Hulk”, but needs to Google it when someone calls our hero “Bigfoot”. Like, what the duh?
The Midnight Line
Author: Lee Child
Publisher: Bantam Press, crime fiction