- The Washington Times - Friday, July 30, 2010

61 HOURS
By Lee Child
Delacorte Press, $27
383 pages

Some years back, I worked with one of Hollywood’s Better Known Screenwriters developing an idea about urban street cops that we hoped would become a concept that we could turn into an outline that might evolve into a proposal that we could then pitch to a studio so we could get front money for a script. One day, as we toiled in the BKS’s Malibu Colony home office, he looked up from his typewriter - yeah, it was that long ago - and said, “Y’know what my dream is?”

“What?” I asked.

“Someday, I want to get paid a lot of money to write a script that begins ‘So, our hero rides into a strange town … .”

With “61 Hours,” Lee Child has achieved the BKS’s dream. Like Clint Eastwood’s Preacher character in “Pale Rider,” Mr. Child’s anti-hero Jack Reacher appears by happenstance in a strange town (in this case, the city of Bolton, S.D., pop. 12,261, in the middle of an apocalyptic-level blizzard), at precisely the moment Bolton needs someone exactly like Jack Reacher.

“61 Hours” is Mr. Child’s 14th Jack Reacher novel, and I am happy to report that he has not phoned it in, but instead honed a taut, evocative tick-tock of a book that includes single-, double- and triple-crosses, multiple murders, well-wrought action scenes and a modicum of wry, ironic humor. The 61 hours of the title are a deadline that is not fully explained until time actually runs out. Until then, neither Mr. Reacher nor we understand its significance.

Mr. Child crafts his book nicely. His characters are either pleasantly understated or deliciously off-center. Andrew Peterson is the understated deputy chief of the Bolton Police Department. He’s the archetypal good cop: competent and passionate about what he does. Peterson’s boss, Chief Tom Holland, is off-center: a tall, lean plainsman going a little stooped and soft with age. “He looked tired and preoccupied, like a guy more content with the past than the present.”

Mr. Child’s villain is a diminutive Latin American who calls himself by the single moniker Plato. Plato lives in a 100-acre-plus walled compound 100 miles from Mexico City, and his illicit businesses include, according to a federal database accessed by Peterson, “pawn shops in Chicago, Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Des Moines, and Indianapolis, suspected dope in the same five cities, suspected prostitution in the same five cities. … They figure he must have killed hundreds of people. … He’s not an amateur.”

Plato is also vertically challenged. “Peterson clicked and scrolled. ‘He’s really very small,’ he said. ‘Four-feet-eleven-inches.’ “

Reacher: “Really?”

Peterson: “What are you?”

“Six-feet-five.”

“You’ve got eighteen inches on him. That’s a foot-and-a-half.”

Reacher said, ‘He’s practically a dwarf.’ “

Peterson said, ‘Someone else once called him a dwarf, and wound up in the hospital with his legs cut off.’ “

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