For a series that’s sold more than 100 million books, the question of whether Reacher is still Reacher in the hands of a new author could literally be a multimillion-dollar question.
Will people who’ve been reading Lee Child’s series for 20 years be able to tell the difference as younger brother, established crime novelist Andrew Child, has stepped in as co-author? What about when he eventually takes over entirely?
I confess that it was perhaps this question, beyond just my four-month-old (who turns a two-day read into a two-week read) that distracted me from complete immersion in the new Reacher novel. Knowing Lee is handing the baton to his younger brother starting with this book, I was hypervigilant to tone and nuance and character, looking for telltale signs of interference from this interloper. And though Andrew Child was someone deeply personally invested in the series – Lee Child has said in an interview that he consulted his younger for criticism on the first draft of the first novel – as a die-hard loyal reader I couldn’t help but view the whole thing with extreme suspicion.
The story is set just outside Nashville, where Reacher foils a kidnap attempt on a stranger in the street. Because he’s Reacher. (It’s not even the first time he has interrupted the on-street kidnapping of a stranger, having done this in the second book, 1998’s Die Trying.)
Reacher becomes an ad-hoc bodyguard for the intended victim, a frankly pretty useless IT guy whose computer project has drawn him into the middle of an international espionage standoff.
The good news: I couldn’t for the life of me find a difference in the writing or characterisation of Reacher. The short sentences, bone-dry humour and Reacherisms were all there: prime numbers, mental alarm clocks and all. Were there in fact too many references to Reacher’s quirks packed in? No, surely it’s the hypervigilance talking. The plot was tight and twisty enough, though as I said, between baby brain, the interruptions from the infant himself and being unable to stop myself scanning for differences in the writing I found it strangely difficult to focus on fine plot detail (spy stuff isn’t my thing anyway, it confuses me; I much prefer a nice gory murder).
The bad news: characterisation of everyone but Reacher struck me as rather thin, lacking in colour and detail even for a series in which all other characters are transient and rarely given much depth. Even given Reacher’s compulsion to serve and protect I couldn’t see why he’d spend much energy protecting the guest protagonist, the pathetic IT guy Rusty Rutherford. And the nod to Reacher’s one phobia in the climax (not to give too much away) seemed token and rushed to me, another example of a scenario that was already explored more fully and effectively in one of the earlier novels.
This was nowhere near my favourite Reacher novel, but was a remarkably seamless transition for the series into new hands that seem more than capable of carrying the juggernaut forward. I will keep following along – at least for now.