Sunday, July 27, 2008
Review: "Nothing To Lose" by Lee Child
Former Army MP Jack Reacher has metaphorically traveled the road from hope to despair many times. In Colorado, while on his way to San Diego, Reacher has the opportunity to do it in a physical sense as he has found both towns and the 12 miles of road that separate the two. It is a straight two lane road running between the two towns that serves to separate two locations that could not be further apart in terms of style, pleasantness of the population, or anything. Hope's part of the highway consists of thick dark asphalt rolled smooth. Despair used hot tar and dumped grey gravel on it. Reacher plans walking to Despair, having a cup of coffee and then will be back on his way either by foot or by catching a ride if he can get lucky.
He never intended to stay because he was just passing through and taking the shortest way between two points. Reacher would have left the folks of Despair alone if they had left him alone. They didn't. Four locals want him gone for no good reason that Reacher can understand. They make the mistake of messing with Reacher and suffer the painful consequences. Now they have given Reacher a reason to stick around and poke into their business until he finally exposes the secrets they have hidden for years.
This latest installment, number twelve in a series that began with the incredible good "Killing Floor" is not Lee Child's best work. This novel, much like Reacher who is constantly walking back and forth between the two towns when he isn't romancing a local cop just a little, is a plodding read that goes the distance but nowhere fast. The Reacher character was substantially fleshed out sometime ago and as such there isn't anything new to discover and report. If anything, after recent events this is a Reacher that, while he says the right things about helping others and doing the right things when needed has a thicker distance to him now that wasn't present earlier in the series.
Also apparent is a flatness to the writing. Part of that is due to the described starkness of the landscape as well as the constant and detailed plodding trips between the two towns. This novel has a certain apocalyptic feel to it as the world in general compresses down to this small area of Colorado where information is scarce and the threats are huge and come in many forms. Despair is a company town and as such exists for one reason only much like the towns in novels of the future where genetic, biological, chemical, nuclear, or some other horror have laid waste to everything and nearly all of humanity. The landscape is harsh, the people unfriendly, and deep dark secrets exist that grow worse short chapter after short chapter.
The flatness to the writing extends to the comments Reacher makes regarding the military and service. Even after Reacher lectures the reader on how the military knows in these times what the politicians are up to and believes that the politicians have broken the implied contract between the military and the people, there is a lack of passion in the arguments. Instead, this piece and several other commentaries along these lines in the latter pages of the novel are all without any passion or zest. These comments which don't have enough passion in them to be termed "rants" are completely out of character for Reacher and do not fit the actions of a character well known to readers. While cynicism in a character as he or she ages is nothing new, or in the author for that matter, one expects such situations to be explained and that is not done here. Instead, Reacher offers opinions flatly and with little emotion as if by saying these things it won't matter anyway because nothing will change. Implied is the question—why bother?
Something quite a few readers may well ask themselves at the end of this one. It is a very long way to go for the final seventy pages or so that pound forward as only a Reacher book can and provide an enjoyable and suspenseful finish to the book. This isn't the best in the series by a long shot and has fundamental flaws for this reader. It is by that series standard, set long ago, that this novel falls a bit short. In a lesser writer, the work would be thought better by comparison. A weak Jack Reacher novel is better by a long shot than a lot of other books out there these days.
Nothing To Lose: A Jack Reacher Novel
Review copy provided by the good folks of the Plano, Texas Public Library System
Kevin R. Tipple © 2008