61 HOURS (2010) by Lee Child
Reviewed by Barry Ergang
Ex-military man--specifically, military policeman--Jack Reacher is adrift in America with, quite literally, only the clothes on his back. To say the man travels light is one of the world's great understatements. 61 Hours is the fourteenth book in the Reacher series. As it opens, he's on a tour bus in South Dakota, having paid the driver to let him join the elderly passengers who are en route to Mount Rushmore in the dead of winter. It is snowing, with a bigger storm that's coming from Wyoming expected to hit, and the temperatures are bitter. An oncoming car goes into a skid and the bus driver, tired after a long day of concentrating because of the weather conditions, tries to avoid it. The bus slides on the glazed road surface and winds up in a ditch.
The nearest town is a small one named Bolton. Because of problems within the town, help is delayed in getting to the bus. But eventually it arrives, and the freezing passengers are taken to town--some to hospitals. The townspeople are kind enough to let the uninjured stay in their homes until new transportation arrives for them. The one who takes in Reacher is the deputy police chief.
As events unfold, Reacher learns that outside town there's an old military installation, long unused, that's currently occupied by an outlaw biker gang. The local authorities are sure the bikers are manufacturing and selling methamphetamines, but they haven't got sufficient cause to search the installation. However, one of the bikers has been jailed and is awaiting trial because a local woman, elderly librarian Janet Salter, saw him engaged in a transaction. The bikers are working for the ruthless and deadly head of a Mexican drug cartel, a man who goes by the name Plato. Janet Salter is willing to testify at the biker's trial and is consequently under twenty-four-hour protection.
The Bolton chief of police and his deputy chief realize that Reacher, with his experience and apparent willingness to help, is an asset they can't afford to ignore. And since neither he nor any of the other bus passengers can go anywhere until the storm lessens sufficiently for another bus to get there, they allow him to involve himself in their problems.
As matters progress, several mysteries develop, one of which is the identity of the hit man Reacher and the police know has been dispatched to kill Janet Salter, another the reason the military installation was built fifty years earlier and what might be there still.
The story moves along at a terrific pace--even during some chapters when all anyone can do is wait to see what will or won't happen--helped in no small measure by Lee Child's staccato prose style, one made up principally of short declarative sentences and sentence fragments. What seems at first to be a straight thriller proves to also be a detective story, with Reacher deducing from events the reader is privy to who the hit man is.
61 Hours is a thriller and a chiller, the frigid-beyond-imagining South Dakota winter playing a major role in the story. Child describes it vividly throughout the novel, and many a reader will shiver through these passages--especially if it's cold where he is while reading it.
The climax is tense and wild, as Reacher comes face to face with the nefarious Plato, and ends with a cliffhanger that's presumably resolved in the next book in the series.
This is the first of the Reacher novels I've read. I've heard and read good things about them from other reviewers. I don't know if they're best read in order, but after reading 61 Hours, I'm sure I'll be reading some of the others.
Barry Ergang (c) 2011
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