by Lee Child
Bang. Crash. Wallop. Terrific, Jack Reacher is back. The bruising hero of 15 other Lee Child action thrillers returns for the 16th in the series in what is arguably the best of them all. And we all return, too, to 1997, to Reacher the solder, right before the debut novel, Killing Floor, when, as a civilian, Reacher stepped off a bus in a small town and found himself in big trouble.
In The Affair, big trouble also surrounds him, but this time Major Jack Reacher, of the US Army's Military Police, has gone in search of it - working undercover to investigate the murder of a beautiful woman. Her death may or may not be linked to soldiers using a special operations army base in Mississippi. Soon other deaths are uncovered.
Rather than another action thriller with Reacher as loner and civilian, Child has freshened things up, repeating the success of book eight, The Enemy, by placing his hero back in uniform. We also have a good old-fashioned whodunnit in the mix, with Reacher the legitimate detective hunting the killer, but also vengeful and ever ready to deliver his brand of justice.
Reacher never takes a false step in this book. Child uses his storytelling skills to deliver an absorbing and credible narrative. Some of the earlier books - while providing gripping plots and heart-pumping action - occasionally grate because of the repetitive 'wandering loner' plotline and the hulking 1.95-metre Reacher's near invincibility. (The diminutive Tom Cruise, who is set to play Reacher on screen, may have the star power but the height and physical threat?)
Nothing jars here. Child and Reacher are right at home. The strictures of having to work within (or just about) the army's rules suit both writer and protagonist. Reacher is convincing as a soldier on a mission, rather than the near-superhero of earlier stories.
Pacing and plotting are outstanding and the twists and turns, gutsy action, shocks and clever red herrings help propel this thriller way above the norm. It should also leave you guessing.
Child offers nice touches of humour, too: the soldier's blossoming romance with Sheriff Elizabeth Deveraux, a former marine, is handled playfully. 'I spent most of my time looking at the third button on Deveraux's shirt,' says Reacher. 'I had noticed it before. It was the first one that was done up. Therefore, it was the first one that would have to be undone.'
The punchy dialogue and bone-crunching fights are also as gritty as ever.
Soon after his arrival, Reacher upsets some local toughs, leaving two bloodied and unconscious. 'An unprovoked head butt is like bringing a sawed-off shotgun to a knife fight,' Reacher remarks.
However, later the men, along with two others, confront him. 'This is your plan? ... Four guys ... is that it?' says Reacher. 'Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.'
He warns them: 'You're at a fork in the road here. You have to decide which way to go. You could wade in, just the four of you, right now. But the next step after that will be the hospital. That's a promise. That's a cast-iron guarantee. I'm talking broken bones.'
A new book. A new fork in the road. More blood and broken bones. Same old Jack Reacher.