“Blue Moon” by Lee Child

Blue MoonWhenever Jack Reacher steps off a Greyhound bus, mayhem is sure to follow, and that is certainly the case in Blue Moon, the 25th novel in the series. A fellow passenger, an elderly man with a thick envelope in his jacket pocket, catches Reacher’s eye. Then he notices another rider, a young man, staring hungrily at the envelope. So when the elderly man gets off the bus, followed by the younger man, Reacher decides to disembark too, figuring he may needed to foil a mugging.

That’s exactly what happens, and Reacher finds out that the elderly man needed that cash in order to pay off a loan shark. The unnamed city he lives in is controlled by the Eastern European mob, which has neatly divided the territory into two equal parts: “The west of the city was run by Ukrainians. The east was run by Albanians. The demarcation line between them was gerrymandered as tight as a congressional district.”

The arrangement may work for the mobsters, but it’s making a lot of other people in town miserable. But can Reacher take on two well-armed organized crime factions all by himself and live to tell the tale? If your answer to that question is “No way, that’s insane!” then you’ve obviously never read a Lee Child novel before.

Reacher does team up with a handful of locals, including a beautiful waitress, but Reacher himself is always at the center of things, and Blue Moon’s body count ultimately reaches stratospheric levels, to the point where it becomes mordantly comical. It’s always fun to see how Reacher manages to get himself out of a jam, but in this case, the answer is usually “grab a gun from a bad guy and kill a whole bunch of people.” If this Grand Guignol adventure is ever filmed for Amazon’s upcoming Reacher series, the fake-blood budget will be off the charts. All in all, I greatly preferred the previous novel in the series, Past Tense; this one is for Reacher completists only.

“Past Tense” by Lee Child

Past TenseAfter reading 2015’s truly disturbing Make Me, I kind of swore off Lee Child for a while, as it struck me as more horror than thriller. But then I saw Past Tense on the new-books shelf at the library, and decided to give it a whirl.

Like Make Me, Past Tense has Jack Reacher impulsively stopping in a small town, in this case Laconia, New Hampshire. “A name Reacher knew. He had seen it on all kinds of historic family paperwork, and he had heard it mentioned from time to time. It was his late father’s place of birth, and where he was raised, until he escaped at age seventeen to join the Marines… But he never went back.”

At this point, anyone who’s read a Jack Reacher novel (this is #24 in the series) knows that small towns in Lee Child novels are always places where bad, bad things are going on, and Reacher will wind up having to save the day, kicking lots of ass in the process. In Past Tense, we get a parallel story about a young Canadian couple on their way to New York with a mysterious suitcase. Their car breaks down near a motel a few miles outside of Laconia. But it’s not a Motel 6, and they’re not going to leave the light on for you.

It’s clear that the Reacher-in-Laconia storyline and one with the Canadians stuck at the creepiest lodging since the Bates Motel are eventually going to intersect. Pleasantly, the Canadians, especially the female, are resourceful, and not sitting ducks for whatever the sinister innkeepers have in store for them.

Getting a glimpse into Reacher’s past is always interesting, and the book subverts expectations a bit by not having him have a fling with the female cop in Laconia; the Canadian woman, Patty, fills the traditional “strong woman” role in this book. (One of the reasons Child has so many female fans is undoubtedly because women are portrayed as powerful in their own right, even if they don’t possess hands the size of Thanksgiving turkeys.) This is an enjoyable read that delivers everything Reacher fans have come to expect when they pick up a Lee Child novel, with just the right amount of suspense and action.

“Make Me” by Lee Child

Make Me by Lee ChildWith rare exceptions, Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels tend to follow a familiar formula: in the words of Malcolm Gladwell, they “involve, invariably, Reacher tumbling across some kind of malevolent conspiracy in the American heartland and killing everyone involved.” Make Me follows this formula to a T, but there are some especially disturbing twists in the latest chapter of the Reacher saga. One of the pleasures of reading a Child novel is that you know Reacher will wind up conquering the bad guys, often in partnership with a kick-ass female counterpart whom he loves and leaves after he’s saved the day. (Reacher, like Papa, is a rolling stone.) But Make Me suggests Reacher may be mortal after all.

As usual, Reacher just happens to stumble upon a nightmarish crime and, since he has nothing better to do, get involved in solving it. He is riding the train across the vast, empty prairies and decides on a whim to disembark at the small town of Mother’s Rest, mainly because he’s curious about the origin of the name. Figuring there must be a museum or commemorative stone, he instead runs into a woman named Michelle Chang, an ex-FBI agent turned private investigator looking for her missing partner. Keever disappeared from Mother’s Rest without a trace, before he could brief Chang about exactly what was going on. Reacher decides to help her out, and together, they discover the horrible truth about the town.

At one point, they team up with a Los Angeles Times reporter who seems to have the world’s largest expense account (it turns out getting to the bottom of the Mother’s Rest conspiracy requires a lot of travel), but primarily it’s the two of them against the world. Reacher suffers a concussion in a confrontation with a hired goon, and while he usually shakes off his injuries, this one proves to be frustratingly persistent. Chang also seems a little less disposable than the women he’s dealt with in the past. Does Make Me mark a turning point for the long-lived (this is book #20) series? We’ll have to wait a while to find out, as the next book (coming out this fall) is a prequel, set during an earlier period in Reacher’s life.

I tore through Make Me in a couple days, helped along by the fact that it’s been relentlessly rainy, and what better to do on a wet weekend than curl up with a book? However, when I got to the big reveal of what was actually happening in Mother’s Rest, I will admit that it was a million times more shocking than anything I could ever have imagined. I woke up in the middle of the night after I finished the book, suffused with a feeling of dread. That may or may not count as a recommendation; I don’t know. It depends on if you want to read a book that may literally haunt your dreams.