Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Review: Never Go Back - Lee Child (Kindle)

Through the seventeen years Lee Child has delivered Jack Reacher as the hardest hobo in the Americas, we've had avenging sibling murder, hostage and wacko clans, serial killers and political assassinations, gun runners and the war on terror. At other times we've had small rural towns hiding wider crime networks. These last four years Reacher's adventures have been built around his quest towards Washington and the HQ of the 110th special investigations - Reacher's old unit, so he can take the new C/O out to lunch.

In a real world where the American (and British) governments pursue the likes of Julian Assange and Edward Snowden, NGB is thematically that of an all knowing big brother. Never Go Back begins with Reacher making the HQ, only to find the C/O locked up for taking bribes. Reacher also finds himself at the wrong end of a paternity law suite and manslaughter charge. Forcibly re-commissioned into the army so he can be prosecuted, it all seems as bogus to Reacher as it sounds. But why would anyone go to the trouble?

As with last years 'A Wanted Man' I struggled with NGB, largely in its 400+ pages, excesses of superfluous detail and flawed plot. In contrast to all the other Reacher books this lurches into the realm of Tom Clancy political thriller and as such it's long and sadly there's barely an ounce of thriller throughout. None of the bad guys come close to giving Reacher a hard time, half of them are given a good drubbing in the very first chapter. Once more with Lee Child we get violence far removed from the real world. NGB IS full of detail and exposition and the comings and goings that made last years, 'A Wanted Man', so difficult. Once more we spend a good portion on the road with no great plot reason. Historically if Reacher needed to go somewhere you turned the page and he'd be there. These days we get thirty pages detailing the journey, some tame sex and a fairly standard crowd of 'Deliverence' hill billies routinely taken out.

Lee Child has been for me the premier thriller writer of the early 21st century. His last two books are different beasts though, full of excessive detail, ponderous and meandering, a threadbare plot. This year it's so thin it seems implausible from the get go and never redeems itself. Anyone well versed in thriller plot devices will be screaming for someone, anyone, to track the money of the initial bribe, a routine process in any bribery investigation you might assume. We go through the whole book and despairingly discover at the very end why tracing the money isn't covered, because it would have closed down the investigation right away. Likewise the premise of the charges against Reacher are deliberately designed to make him RUN, except the story states the baddies have access to a special investigation explicitly stating Reacher never ran from anything from the age of six onwards.

These are not the casual slight of hands we have come to expect from Child nor the kind he should expect his biggest fans to swallow.

A final footnote. Child in an interview with Playboy about the time Jack Reacher was released at the cinema, took the opportunity to state he thought David Baldacci was overrated. To the point one of the heavies Reacher routinely uses through NGB as a punchbag is named Baldacci. Having read Baldacci's books, lately the entertaining Zero Day, Child is a better thriller writer, but not by some distance on the strength of these last two novels. Will the real Lee Child please step forward.


Cathy Westminster said...

Thank you for that - really honest review. I've only now been intrduced to the fabled Jack Reacher through an interview Child had with the Book Report radio show, which on face value made me want to jump up and go get the book for this weekend. Having read your review though...are all his books stand alone affairs or should I rather start at the very beginning?

John Potter said...

Appreciate you stopping by Cathy. His books are all standalone although I do always like to read a series in order anyway. Highly recommended are Killing Floor, Die Trying, Persuader and probably the best book in the series for me is 61 Hours. In reality he has barely put a foot wrong up until the last two years. The Affair was the last solid Reacher outing in my opinion. Hope this helps. Would love to know what you do go for and what you thought.

Cathy Westminster said...

Thank you John. I've read really good things about 'Persuader' - so I think I'll go down that road for now :)