Thursday, August 16, 2012

A Wanted Man by Lee Child

Disclosure note: I was provided with an Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) of "A Wanted Man" by Lee Child by the wonderful folks at Shelf Awareness.

Anyone who knows me realizes that I am not a huge fan of the suspense/thriller genre. Those who write this genre seem to have a penchant for hard-bitten men who are violent, ruthless, sexist and always on the edge of becoming an "anti-hero."
However, there have been a few suspense/thriller novels that I have read and enjoyed, such as "Loser's Town" by Daniel Depp that surprised me with a nuanced protagonist who wasn't such an outright jerk that he made me want to throw the book against the wall in protest.

So I picked up the 18th book in Lee Child's Jack Reacher series with some trepidation this morning at 9:30 am.
I finally looked up at the clock at 3:40 pm and discovered I was on page 320, only 100 pages from the end of the novel. I finished an hour later, breathless from the breakneck speed of the plot and reeling from the intensity of the story, told in prose that reads like a movie script.
Never having read a Lee Child book, I must say I think that there needs to be a warning on the cover: "Be aware that this book will grab your attention from page one and not let it go until page 416; go to the bathroom and eat something before you begin!"
Child's protagonist Jack Reacher is a tall, big man, former military police and a history buff with a vast knowledge of American historical trivia locked inside his head. He has just enough charm and intelligence to talk his way into and out of most trouble, which is a good thing, as he starts the novel with a nose that has been smashed into his face with the butt of a rifle. He has tried to set the broken bones with duct tape, but realizes as he's hitchhiking through Nebraska to get to Virginia that the duct tape makes him look sinister. So he rips it off and waits through a number of squeamish drivers before he is picked up in a car with three people, two men and a woman who are dressed alike and claim to be on a kind of corporate retreat.
Meanwhile, a man is found murdered in a pump room and an eyewitness claims to have seem three men go into the pump room and only two come out. What might seem to be a simple homicide is  found to be a matter of international terrorism and soon Reacher is embroiled in a search for the murderers that takes him through most of the Midwestern states, (including Iowa, hurrah!) with two FBI agents and nothing but the clothes on his back and his military training to get everyone out of trouble.
Each chapter escalates the tension and provides twists to the characters and plot that you don't see coming until they're staring up at you from the page.  Though there is a bit of sexism to Reacher (he's very judgmental of the women who appear in the book, and the author makes it clear that the more sympathetic woman character has been working undercover as a stripper. I find it bizarre that so many male authors seem to find strippers, prostitutes and 'fallen' women so enticing and so representative of the flower of true womanhood, as if sleaze is the only path to sainthood or desirability), he's not without a conscience, and when one of the female FBI agents is killed, he says, after being offered the opportunity to retreat to safety: "If I come back with you, I am guaranteed to die of shame."
So Reacher goes all GI Joe on the terrorists, killing with precision and utter calm. The descriptions of gore and how people die when shot in various places were not really as nauseating as I expected them to be, but that said, I can only assume the machinery/gun/gore narration in the novel will be appreciated by a more masculine audience, or by women in the military for whom battle descriptions are thrilling reading. Despite that, I would say that I enjoyed about 75-80 percent of "A Wanted Man" and if, as it says in the back blurb, the Jack Reacher novels have been optioned for movies by Hollywood, I imagine I could be persuaded by my husband and son to go see the movie version of handy Jack. Meanwhile, if you'd like to read this novel, here's the link to amazon to pre-order it before it comes out on 9/11.

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