Sunday, June 5

Bad Luck and Trouble – Lee Child

Though he hasn’t a home, Jack Reacher isn’t homeless, he’s a drifter – since leaving the army he moves as the spirit takes him, carrying nothing but the clothes in his back. And, since tightening regulations in the aftermath of 9/11, a passport and an ATM card. Always interested in playing with numbers, Reacher keeps track of his account balance, down to interest paid and fees charged. So when his balance unexpectedly swells by $1,030 he not only notices, he analyses its’ meaning, and his present intersects with his past.
All of Reacher’s time in the army had been as an MP; for a decade he headed an elite team, the Special Investigators – a handpicked four-man, two-woman squad he knew better than his family. Bad Luck and Trouble takes Reacher, and the reader, back to those days – someone’s picking off members of the Special Investigators, and though the squad has been long disassembled their motto endures: you do not mess with the Special Investigators.
The eleventh Reacher novel has all the series trademarks – a protagonist who is both everyman and superman, short sentences packed with action, military insight in a civilian world, a short-lived relationship where both parties leave happy, justice done, the bad punished and the good at least no worse off than they were, and our hero strolling toward the horizon.
It this makes it sound like I think the novel is formulaic then I’ve done Child a disservice – one of the things I enjoy about the Reacher series is the author’s ability to make each installment fresh while maintaining consistency, to balance a developed character with a minimum of back story for new readers.
I’ve been glutting a little on Child this week, as I procrastinate about more serious reading, and for the first time realised that the novels alternate between first and third person perspectives; this is the latter, which allows scenes like the arresting prologue, where Reacher doesn’t feature.
Child is usually very good at conveying specialised information without being obvious – I did find myself jerked out of the narrative just a little at the explanation about a cryptic note reading “650 at $100 per”:
The k abbreviation meant thousand and was fairly standard among U.S. Army personnel of Sanchez’s generation, coming either from math or engineering school or from having served overseas where distances were measured in kilometres instead of miles. A kilometre was nicknamed a klick and measured a thousand metres, about 60 per cent of a mile. Therefore $100K meant one hundred thousand dollars. The per was a standard Latin preposition meaning for each, as in miles per gallon or miles per hours.
Perhaps if I came from a background where the concept of a kilometre wasn’t second nature this section wouldn’t be so dry. That’s only a quibble, though. For the most part Bad Luck and Trouble is not only a great escapist novel but also gives the interested reader a new level of insight into Reacher’s character and past. I find myself no closer to understanding why being rootless is so important to him, but that’s not essential to enjoying the narrative. For the fastidious it is, however, essential not to think too deeply about the ramifications of a travelling man who carries neither spare socks or jocks, nor deodorant. Provided you can, and if you’re looking for a novel that will involve you without requiring great intellectual investment, this is for you. I thoroughly relished my vicarious visit with characters almost as different from me as it would be possible for a contemporary westerner to be. - 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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