Monday, March 07, 2011

Barry's Reviews: 61 HOURS by Lee Child

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
To celebrate e-book week, Barry Ergang's impossible crime novelette, "The Play of Light and Shadow," has been reduced in price at Smashwords: Download a copy to your e-reader or computer between now and March 12th. If you like whodunits/howdunits, try to solve this one.


jennymilch said...

How interesting that you started with this one, Barry, if only because of the ending! Well, as one Creature said to me a long time ago, What great reading you have in store!

This is a nice review and I'd look forward to reading others if you go back and start from KILLING FLOOR. As you might be able to tell, Lee Child is in my top 10. Maybe my top 5.

Thanks for hosting, Kevin!

Kevin R. Tipple said...

I am always very glad to have Barry review here and I am hoping for many, many more.

Barry said...

Thanks, Jenny. Feedback, whether positive or negative, is always appreciated.

When I read additional Lee Child novels, it's pretty likely I'll write reviews of them.

Jan Christensen said...

Barry, I don't usually choose books that have drugs as the main focus of the crime (the whole subject bores me), and since I don't like the cold, I also avoid books where all the characters are shivering. But you had me hooked--I was almost ready to read this for all the other reasons you mentioned--the writing, the tension, the librarian (!), and so forth. Then you say the plot isn't totally resolved so everyone will want to read the next Lee Child novel. This made up my mind. Not for me.

But thank you so much for the review. They are not only helpful for helping us pick up great reads, but for avoiding what we know we probably won't enjoy.

Morgan Mandel said...

If someone told me to do a mystery starting with a mundane bus trip with seniors, I doubt very much I could come up with such a plot!

Lee certainly has a great imagination!

Morgan Mandel

Barry said...

Jan, rest assured the plot is resolved. It's the condition of our hero that's left in doubt.

Kate Thornton said...

Barry - great review - I am a Creature and devour all of Lee Child's Jack Reacher books. You do indeed have a treat coming with the rest of the series. When I am next reincarnated as a man for all my sins, I wanna come back as Jack Reacher. Or as Lee Child - he's gorgeous (and very nice, too!)

Or Kevin who is a fine person or Barry who is a fine reviewer!

Barry said...

Thanks, Kate.

Jan Christensen said...

Sorry, guys. When you use the word "cliffhanger," I figure something really important has been left for the next book. I didn't fully understand what wasn't resolved. But I still balk at the fact that something (and from what Barry wrote, it sounded both intriguing and important) is big enough to be called a cliffhanger.

Steve said...

Those who don't read "61 Hours" because they think the book is unresolved are cutting off their own noses to spite their faces, so to speak.
The book reaches (no pun intended) a satisfying conclusion that MAKES you want to read the next one...
Which is just as good.
Lee Child's Jack Reacher is one of my top five current fictional "heroes"--which, alas, will no longer contain Spenser, since Robert B. Parker has left us, but which does contain F. Paul Wilson's Repairman Jack.