By Lee Child. Jack Reacher #16. Grade: A
All the Reacher novels are in chronological order, but The Affair is a prequel of sorts. It tells us why Reacher left the army, and fills in that particular gap in his resume.
March 1997. A woman has her throat cut behind a bar in Carter Crossing, Mississippi. Just down the road is a big army base. Is the murderer a local guy – or is he a soldier? Jack Reacher, still a major in the military police, is sent in undercover.
The county sheriff is a former U.S. Marine – and a stunningly beautiful woman. Her investigation is going nowhere. Is the Pentagon stonewalling her? Or doesn’t she really want to find the killer?
The adrenaline-pumping, high-voltage action in The Affair is set just six months before the opening of “Killing Floor”, and it marks a turning point in Reacher’s career. If he does what the army wants, will he be able to live with himself? And if he doesn’t, will the army be able to live with him? Is this his last case in uniform?
Let me be the one to admit it: this is my first Child novel. No, no, I haven’t been living under a rock for the last eighteen years. I just never got the chance to check him out, but when the opportunity presented, I grabbed it by the horns.
The premise looked good from the very beginning. Jack Reacher is the kick-ass anti-hero whom Captain America wouldn’t want to cross. In this particular affair, he is working undercover to solve three unexplained murders in a small military-base town in 1997 Mississippi. Reacher is here an MP and was sent only after the third murder in nine months – a slit throat of a young white woman. There he meets the stunningly beautiful Elizabeth Deveraux, who was an MP herself and figures Jack out in five minutes. She comes across as a very smart woman, which was why I was so terribly disappointed by her non-stop stupidity a hundred pages later.
Anyhow, Reacher investigates, and when his investigation leads back to the military base and an officer with strong connections to Washington, D.C., Reacher realizes that this is no ordinary investigation: the powers-that-be don’t want to uncover the truth, and in fact are set on burying it. Reacher, though a U.S. Army officer, holds his ultimate allegiance to the truth, which puts him in direct conflict with his superior, among others.
The novel is written in first person POV, with a terse narrative that I have come to recognize as typical Reacher.
I didn’t want to be late for dinner. I wasn’t angry, really. Well, not at first. I got a bit frustrated later. You know, mentally. I mean, when there were four of them, I gave them the chance to come back in numbers. And what did they do? They added two more guys. That’s all. They show up with a total of six. What is that about? It’s deliberate disrespect.
There is some great back-and-forth dialogue, despite the short sentences often coming across as incondite and repetitive. There is also some dry humour woven through the narrative, spicing things up. The mystery is excellent; the build-up is slow in places, but required for the plot to work. It would have made it to my favourite books of 2012 if not for a couple of reasons:
1. Elizabeth Deveraux aka The Stupidest Woman Alive. Readers may point out that the reason she pissed me off so much because despite eating pies and cheeseburgers for years daily, she still looks like a supermodel. Nobody’s metabolism is just that good.
But no, that’s not my problem with her. She falls for the hero almost immediately (and goes to bed with him) even though she figures out exactly what he’s up to in the first five minutes. More importantly, she has no investigation in place. Two (black) women have died, but she really snaps into action with the third one. It’s not like she has much to do, living in this small hick of a town. She does not investigate family, check relationship history, and fails to make important – and easily deductible – connections. She is said to have a thirst for justice, but boy, you could have fooled me.
She quit the Marines after 16 years. Who would do that when she would be four years away from a life long pension, PX and medical privileges, etc?
2. I also did not care for Jack Reacher’s moral depth in this story. Too much unwarranted killing and too little compassion make the main character seem as malevolent as the bad guys he is after. What you have is an invincible hunk, an MP by profession, who is the investigator, enforcer, judge and executioner. Somehow in this odd tale Reacher kills four – yes, four - people without breaking a sweat or even being asked to explain his actions. In a novel that already lacks a moral core, this is unsettling.
At the end of this book, he begins his wanderings, leaving a stunningly beautiful woman behind, who wants nothing more than sex with the Major, anywhere, anytime. Sure, he’s out of the Army, but why would he leave her? He even likes her. She used to be an MP, too. There was a distinct lack of character depth.
“I was thirty-six years old, a citizen of a country I had barely seen, and there were places to go, and there were things to do. There were cities, and there was countryside. There were mountains, and there were valleys. There were rivers. There were museums, and music, battlefields and birthplaces, and legends, and roads. There was company if I wanted it, and there was solitude if I didn’t.
I picked a road at random, and I put one foot on the curb and one in the traffic lane, and I stuck out my thumb.”
Overall, I’d say that the ending was a little unsatisfying, and the goof-ups and technical irrationality in places will make your skin grow cold, but if you want an excellent action-packed novel where the hero always kicks butt and saves the day, go for Lee Child.