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Is Jack becoming a social animal?
on April 29, 2003
I'm attracted to Lee Child's novels because of the hardboiled and self-contained nature of his hero, Jack Reacher. After almost two decades as a military cop in the U.S. Army, Jack now wanders the U.S. with only the clothes on his back - no car, no charge cards - and a penchant for crossing paths with assorted villains. Very soon, the reader begins to feel sorry for the Bad Guys.
Reacher is so unpolished that one sometimes wonders how he reached officer grade O-4 (Major), which would imply managing a wardrobe, knotting a tie, and displaying minimal social skills in the officers' mess and at the CO's annual Christmas party. It's not that Jack is a Neanderthal; he just doesn't care to run with the rest of the lemmings anymore.
In WITHOUT FAIL, M.E. Froelich, who heads the Secret Service protection detail for the newly elected Vice President, Brook Armstrong, hires Reacher to audit the security of the new Veep's protective screen. Froelich is also the ex-girlfriend of Jack's dead brother. After finding holes through which a potential assassin could drive a monster SUV, Reacher learns why the Service really wants his help. The VP is receiving credible death threats. And it may be an inside job.
I would've awarded WITHOUT FAIL at least one more star had it not been a Jack Reacher adventure. But it is, and here our prickly protagonist has to play well with others: Froelich, her boss Stuyvesant, FBI guy Bannon, and a colleague from Reacher's old Army days, ex-Sergeant Frances Neagley. Reacher's talent for punitive violence is severely curtailed compared to past episodes, revealing itself only at the very beginning and the very end. In between, Jack is reduced to being a consultant, even to the point of wearing a suit. Say it ain't so, Lee!
The most interesting character is Neagley, now employed by a civilian security firm. She's ostensibly more deadly at physical combat than Reacher himself, and he admits to being afraid of her skills. So, the reader waits, hoping she'll unleash some mayhem. In the meantime, we learn that Frances, while being a little in love with her old military boss, has a severe dislike of being touched due to some unspecified trauma in her past. Unfortunately, Neagley remains mostly a cipher, and the entertainment value of her character is left pretty much unexploited. Perhaps she'll appear in a future Reacher novel. Better still, the author should give her a series of her own.
I hope the next Reacher thriller is JACK IS BACK. With a vengeance.