Saturday, May 21

61 Hours – Lee Child

A random accident on a snowy bridge in the middle of South Dakota sees traveller Jack Reacher stranded with an elderly tour group and a shocked driver. In the midst of two approaching snow storms all the tow trucks sixty miles in either direction are caught up, and the only nearby shelter is the small town of Bolton. Most of the town is reliant on the recently opened jail; the contract was contested, and came with a number of non-negotiable conditions, chief among which was the requirement that, in the event of a jailbreak, all officers in town must attend until stood down.
When Reacher learns that there’s a witness under protection in the town, and that a lawyer’s been shot in the head in his car, he suspects an attempt to kill the witness before she can testify. Though he doesn’t know it, there’s a clock running – he’s got less than three days to stop a murder.
And we’re reminded of that clock at every opportunity. Done more subtly I think this would have added to the suspense, but I became increasingly irritated by the ending or opening of almost every chapter reiterating the countdown - the first lines of the book are
“Five minutes to three in the afternoon.
Exactly sixty-one hours before it happened.
And that was fine, setting the scene. But then we have page twelve:
Five minutes to four in the afternoon. Sixty hours to go.
The end of chapter two:
Five minutes to five in the afternoon. Fifty-nine hours to go.
The end of chapter three:
Five to eight in the evening. Fifty-six hours to go.
Page forty-seven:
Five minutes to ten in the evening. Fifty-four hours to go.
The end of chapter six:
Five minutes to eleven in the evening. Fifty-three hours to go.
Page 71 (and a small variation):
The clock on the refrigerator ticked on and hot five to midnight. Fifty-two hours to go.
And so on – four more times in the next twenty pages, and another thirty-two times (unless I missed one) before we get to “Twenty-seven minutes past three in the morning. Twenty-eight minutes to go.”
And then we have another two updates before:
Five minutes to four in the morning. Sixty-one hours gone.
61 Hours is supposed to be a novel of significance on the Reacher series, with a cliff-hanger ending and a twist, because the countdown isn’t to what we expect. There’s even a twist in the hook-up aspect that’s de rigueur in the series, because Reacher’s potential bed mate isn’t even in the same state.
As is often the case in the Reacher novels, the initial issue is only the introduction to a far bigger situation, and in the case of 61 Hours it’s a pretty big scenario, with roots going back to WW2, and an almost believable premise.

However, the impact of the twist, the force of the shock ending, was almost wholly diminished for me by the monotonous countdown. Not only did it occur with tedious regularity but, like a series of 24, every update occurred at five minutes to the hour. Except for the three updates within the final hour, page forty gave the only break in the monotony: “Twenty-five past nine in the evening. Fifty-four and a half hours to go.”
Okay, fine, ratchet up the tension with a ticking clock, but a little variety and a little less tick-tick-tick would have been more effective and less distracting. Though that wasn’t my only issue with 61 Hours, it was my biggest.
Others included the fact that I also got ahead of Reacher a couple of times, when it came to the location of a key, and the identity of a mole; in the first case I got there over fifty pages ahead of him, and I wasn’t looking for an answer.

But back to the count down. Frankly, by the time of the big boom finale I didn’t really care any more. Worse, when I closed the book my sense was relief rather than suspense about where to from here for Reacher.
And that’s a shame. Though I’ve found a number of the Reacher plots to be a little far-fetched, I think they’re generally great escapist action novels that repay a willing suspension of disbelief with strong story telling and satisfying conclusions – the wrong are punished, the righteous rewarded, the right upheld, there’s a little non-graphic sheet action, and our archetype strolls off into the sunset as footloose as he began.
When 61 Hours was released there was the promise of a sequel, as Jack Reacher’s story was to be continued. I certainly found the least-sequelly-sequel-ever next instalment a return to the Reacher I enjoy, and it’s reviewed here. - 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

1 comment:

mds said...

Totally agree with WDF being the