- - Thursday, November 30, 2017


By Lee Child

Delacorte Press, $28.99, 384 pages

Lee Child’s Jack Reacher returns, and “The Midnight Line,” his 22nd thriller, is among his best.

If you have never read one and are curious to know why readers have spent more than $1 billion to buy the thrillers in Mr. Child’s Jack Reacher series — more than 100 million books sold world-wide in 47 languages — check out his latest.

Reacher, one of the most alluring and popular characters in contemporary fiction, is a 6-foot, 5-inch, amazingly skilled fighting machine. A downsized former Military Police major, he’s now a drifter, a man with no job and no home who wanders the country, never knowing or caring where he’ll be heading next, never looking for trouble yet always finding it.

Always unkempt and unshaven, he carries with him only a folding toothbrush and the clothes he wears, replacing them with thrift shop buys rather than laundering them. He also carries with him a fervent sense of justice.

Like a knight-errant of medieval lore, he keeps busy rescuing damsels in distress, righting wrongs and rendering justice. Like some iconic hero of American westerns, he shows up, sees a problem, solves it, makes sure all loose ends are tied up, and then heads off.

Returning to a hotel room, he finds a note — his latest girlfriend just left him. He shrugs, drinks both cups of coffee he brought back, grabs his toothbrush from the bathroom glass, walks a few blocks through the streets of Milwaukee to the bus depot and buys a ticket on the first bus out for its end-of-the-line destination.

He isn’t happy that the bus is heading north when the weather is turning colder, but rules are rules. During a comfort stop, he takes a stroll in a grungy part of a small Wisconsin town. Glancing into a pawnshop window his eyes focus on a shelf filled with all sorts of jewelry.

A small ring he notices prompts him to enter the shop. It’s a class ring — West Point 2005. A cadet graduating that year was likely Iraq- or Afghanistan-bound. Examining it up-close, he knows it’s the real deal, not a replica. It gnaws at him that a fellow West Pointer ditched her class ring. Attending West Point is four years of grueling work and anyone who buys a class ring — you don’t have to — wears it with great pride and treasures it. Something is seriously wrong here.

Reacher decides he is going to find this woman, help her, and return her ring to her. Why? Because this is who is. It’s what he does.

The bus horn toots three times — he’s delaying departure. He hurries to the bus, informs the driver he’s staying, and heads back to the pawnshop. He buys the ring for $40, intimidates the pawnshop guy into telling him that, no, it wasn’t pawned by some woman military officer; he bought it from a supposed local charity headed by a biker known as Jimmy Rat.

What begins as some odd but innocent lost-and-found quest quickly morphs into a complex and dangerous confrontation pitting him against a powerful, wide-reaching, ruthless criminal enterprise.

“Mr. Rat” is where the pawnshop guy said he’d be. He’s protected by an entourage of seven tough bikers but before Reacher leaves town Rat gives over the name of his source for the ring. In Rapid City, South Dakota, Reacher confronts a far more dangerous low-life operator named Scorpio. Local authorities cheer him on but don’t intervene. He gets Scorpio to cough up his source for the ring and heads next to a remote spot in Wyoming called Mules Crossing, where he narrowly escapes assassination attempts and finds the ring’s owner.

As he unravels the mystery and works out solutions to grim challenges, he attracts some interesting allies, including an Asian-American woman detective, a private investigator former FBI agent who wears a suit and tie even while trekking Wyoming’s rough terrain and, via telephone, the commandant of West Point.

As always in a Child novel, pace is fast, twists and turns surprise, characters are well-developed, dialogue is exactly right, and the plot is very plausible. But Reacher always hitchhiking or taking a bus because he doesn’t have a driver’s license? Fight scenes are detailed — sometimes excruciatingly so.

“The Midnight Lane” is a highly entertaining read. It’s also instructive, as Lee Child, while never preachy, deftly weaves into the plot concerns about our disabled and disfigured veterans, the extend of our opioid epidemic, and the issue of corrupt circumvention of the pharmaceutical opioids distribution system.

This is book number 22 in this series that debuted 20 years ago. All are great reads and this one is among the best. It doesn’t matter in what order you read them since each stands entirely on its own.

Fred J. Eckert is author of “Hank Harrison for President” (Vandamere Press).

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