Friday, May 15, 2015

FFB Review: "One Shot" by Lee Child-- Reviewed by Barry Ergang

Barry is back today for FFB hosted by Patti Abbott with his thoughts on One Shot by Lee Child…..

ONE SHOT (2005) by Lee Child

Reviewed by Barry Ergang

In an unnamed city in Indiana, at rush hour on a Friday afternoon, a sniper enters a parking garage over a plaza, takes aim, and kills five people in a matter of seconds. The shooter leaves behind all kinds of evidence which leads to a hugely successful investigation and which in turn almost overwhelmingly points to former Army sniper James Barr, who is arrested without a struggle. When
interrogated, he refuses to answer any questions, saying only “They got the wrong guy” and “Get Jack Reacher for me.”

The problem for both the prosecution and the defense is that Jack Reacher is, for all intents and purposes, a ghost. Completely off the grid, he might as well be Jack Unreachable. A former military policeman and now a drifter who rarely stays anywhere for more than a few days, who travels with nothing but the clothes he wears for those few days before discarding them and replacing them with new ones, Reacher is in Miami when he happens to see a national TV news broadcast about the Indiana slayings. He knew James Barr from an investigation fourteen years earlier, when he made the man a promise. Because of that promise, he plans to travel to Indiana—a long journey because he’s light on money and bus routes are the least expensive ways to get where he has to go.

 After being transferred to the county jail, Barr inadvertently violates prisoner protocol and is severely beaten by a gang of other inmates. He’s comatose in a hospital by the time Reacher arrives in the city and meets some of the principal players, among them the D.A., the defense attorney, Barr’s sister, and the police detective who worked the case. Reacher doesn’t want to hang around indefinitely, and nobody knows when Barr will come out of the coma, if he does at all, or what kind of mental condition he’ll be in if he does. Reacher figures his trip has been a waste of time and plans on leaving.

But that night he goes to dinner at a local sports bar where a young woman comes on to him. His rejection of her advances leads to a confrontation with five young hoods, which in turn makes him realize it was a set-up of some kind, and that— as the reader has already begun to learn— there is someone behind the scenes, a “puppet-master,” who is manipulating people and events. He soon learns, too, that he’s being followed. He decides to stay on and work with the defense attorney as her “evidence analyst,” and after he’s framed for a murder, must pursue his own investigation while avoiding the police and the puppet-master’s minions.

 Lee Child’s clear, clipped writing style moves the story along at a decent pace, for the most part, but I nevertheless feel it’s padded with too many repetitive descriptions of routes Reacher walks or drives (when he borrows someone’s car), and what’s along them. How many times do I need irrelevant details about a cloverleaf or a highway built on concrete stilts or the black glass office tower that
houses the local NBC affiliate or a rutted country road? I found myself doing something I seldom do: skimming these and other such repetitious passages that did nothing to move the story forward. This was not for me the kind of ticking-clock page-turner the author intended.

This is only the second Reacher novel I’ve read, the first being 61 Hours four years ago. It’s a good thing I didn’t start with One Shot because it may very well have discouraged me from reading other books in the series. It’s a series whose hardcore fans are legion, so what I’m about to say could get me pilloried. (Just yell, don’t hit.)

As a hero—at least as he’s portrayed in One Shot—Jack Reacher is tedium personified. He’s nearly infallible, always invincible, and frequently arrogant. I know that technically there aren’t any degrees of perfection, that something is or isn’t perfect. Even so, as a fictional hero, Reacher is too perfect. I find that irritating and, frankly, somewhat boring, because he really isn’t relatable the way other fictional heroes are. His character is a modern variation on the western hero who rode into town, took care of the bad guys the townsfolk couldn’t, and rode out again. But even John Wayne, Randolph Scott, William Boyd as Hopalong Cassidy, Roy Rogers and others had their moments of failure, weakness, and vulnerability. You know: humanity. Not Reacher. Not in One Shot, anyway.

Immediately upon finishing the novel, I watched the movie produced by and starring that triumph of miscasting, Tom Cruise. Although he doesn’t remotely resemble Child’s character, he played the part well enough. The script takes some liberties with the original storyline, but correctly covers the basics. Like the book, I thought the movie was only so-so.

© 2015 Barry Ergang

Derringer Award-winner Barry Ergang’s written work has appeared in numerous publications, print and electronic. Some of it is available at Amazon and at Smashwords. His website is

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