Thursday, November 18

The Visitor – Lee Child

Jack Reacher is used to the techniques police use to get suspects to talk - he used to be an MP. So when he's taken in for questioning by the FBI the usual tactics don't work. It helps that Reacher knows he isn't the serial killer targeting women who are ex-military and who made sexual harassment claims - women he had a connection with. He also knows that there can't possibly be any evidence against him. When the lead agent agrees, and with the assistance of his girlfriend, lawyer Jodie Garber-Jacob, Reacher is released, only to be blackmailed be two of the agents to assist them in tracing the killer before he strikes again.
This is the fourth in the Jack Reacher series, but although Reacher's history builds with each novel, there's no real need to read the books in order; Child includes enough background to aid new readers without inundating loyal followers with repetition.
The series is a cut above the average thriller novel, not only because of its unique, independent hero but also because of the interesting elements woven into the plot. In the case of The Visitor (Running Blind in the UK), this includes a very interesting exploration of the strengths and weaknesses of criminal profiling, particularly the role presupposition plays; the legacy of Vietnam-era inter-departmental conflict on current relations between the military and the FBI; some puzzling crime scene elements; and a truly original murder technique, with an opaque motive that I admit I saw coming, a aspect that barely reduced my engagement with the novel.
I do, however, have a couple of quibbles. The first is the extent to which hypnosis can override someone's true preferences, particularly having seen a Mythbusters episode dealing with the question. The second is when a pathologist is discussing ways of causing death without leaving a mark:

'Air embolism would be the best way. A big bubble of air, injected straight into the bloodstream. Blood circulates surprisingly fast, and an air bubble hits the inside of the heart like a stone, like a tiny internal bullet. The shock is usually fatal. That's why nurses hold up the hypodermic and squirt a little air out and flick it with their nail. To be sure there's no air in the mix.'
Yes and no - an air embolism can be fatal, triggering a heart attack due to an interruption in the heart's blood supply. But small gas emboli are almost always dissipated when the blood passes through the lungs before returning to the heart - fatal emboli are sizable, something bigger than 5ml in an adult; nurses push air out of syringes to ensure that the patient is getting an accurate dose.
These minor glitches were relatively insignificant, however, and were almost wholly compensated for by the insertion of the serial killer's point of view, interestingly presented in second person and indicated by italics.
The Visitor is fast paced, engaging, fun and a light-weight but well structured and well packed escapade. - Alex

The Jack Reacher novels
Killing Floor; Die Trying; Tripwire; The Visitor; Echo Burning; Without Fail; Persuader;The Enemy; One Shot;The Hard Way; Bad Luck and Trouble; Nothing to Lose; Gone Tomorrow; 61 Hours; Worth Dying For

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