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Book Review: Bad Luck And Trouble by Lee Child

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Revenge novels are always among the top of my must-read list. The excitement of a well-written book with a dangerous hero shoved in the underdog’s role and up against impossible odds hooks me every time. Throw in a great character with a – mostly – realistic history and abilities and I’m a happy guy.

For the last few years, Lee Child has been writing about a character named Jack Reacher.

Reacher is an awesome hero. Not only is he incredibly physical (6’5” tall and 250 pounds), but he’s also canny as a fox, something of an idiot savant when it comes to numbers, and has a near-photographic memory for people and places. Oh, and then there’s the personal radar system that signals him whenever he’s on dangerous ground.

After leaving his military career, Reacher has become something of a vagabond near-do-well. He hasn’t ever married, never had children, doesn’t own a house, and doesn’t even have a driver’s license. He has a habit of getting on buses and just letting them take him wherever they’re going. Footloose, fancy-free, and always in trouble, he works just enough to get by. The only things he owns these days is a folding toothbrush, and – as a result of the 9/11 crisis – a passport and an ATM card.

The novels are always over the top when it comes to plot and action, but Child writes them so well that if the characters were real and the situations were true, fans just know this is how it would be.

Bad Luck And Trouble is the eleventh Reacher novel and just came out in hardcover. The other ten are all in paperback. Child is so good that he’s moved onto my hardcover buy-list because I don’t want to wait a year for the paperback. It takes a lot to make that list because space in my house is at a premium. He’s already working on his twelfth Reacher novel, Play Dirty.

When Reacher was a military policeman ten years ago, he headed up a special team of eight trained investigators. Their jobs then had been to catch the bad guys – murderers, black marketers, con artists, and runaways – that operated within the United States Army. Over the two years the unit was together, they went up against some true hardcases and put their lives on the line nearly every day. Back then, they’d had a motto: “You don’t mess with the special investigators.”

That motto became a lifeline for them. No one was allowed to attack any member of the unit without the other seven taking part. During those two years, they’d covered each other’s back through a number of close calls – against bullets and against commanding officers who hadn’t cared for their investigations. They’d never lost anyone.

Now someone had killed one of them. Reacher and the survivors of the unit get together for one more special investigation, and their whole mission is to rock and roll the killer’s world.

I loved the whole revenge concept, and Child starts the action off with a cinematic murder. A man is loaded onto a helicopter, flown out into the Nevada desert a short distance from Las Vegas, and dropped three thousand feet to his death. Later we find out this was to strip all forensic evidence from the body. (It’s an interesting idea, but I’ll have to do the research on that one to find out. I’m something of an amateur forensics person.)

Immediately Child shifts to Reacher, who has just discovered that someone has deposited $1030 into his bank account. After a little bit of headwork, Reacher draws the conclusion that someone has sent him a message. He knows it could only have come from his old crew. A 1030 call signified that an agent was in trouble.

Child’s writing has always been economical. He’s never used six words when five would do. Or one. His plotting is quick and tight, and if you don’t pay attention you’re going to miss something. He is, by turns bashing the reader with action and subtle about character interaction, history, and back story for the plot. Everything matters in his books, and he uses everything he develops.

Bad Luck And Trouble is written so lean and frantic that I read it in two sittings. Since the book is almost 400 pages long and has smallish print, that was a lot of reading. Several hours, in fact. But Child kept me nailed to the seat because I could never quite put the book down once he had it up and running. I finally passed out with it on my chest at night, then got up the next morning and finished it.

Child doesn’t write books that let facts or reality get in the way. He stays close to the bone in those areas, but he’s an excellent thriller writer and knows when to trust his instincts and let the story have its head no matter how wild it gets. He’s also got a great grasp of Reacher and the other characters, because even though this is thriller material, all of the old unit came to life on the pages.

With its June release, Bad Luck And Trouble is an excellent beach read. It’s got short chapters, short scenes, and terse clean writing with a plot that never breaks stride.

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