Jack Reacher is back. In this e-book-only short story, he’s back in the army, in his 20′s, making it chronologically one of the very early Reacher tales. He’s been called in from Frankfurt to Washington, D.C., where he’s put undercover as a sniper sitting in on a pre-committee… I know, bear with me… of politicos discussing a possible requisition for sniper rifles. Apparently the prior two meetings of these subcommittee politicos with military representatives have resulted in sensitive weapons information being leaked overseas, and Reacher is to find the leak. His handler in this operation is sure the leak is one of four women, and encourages Reacher to use his woman-wrangling skills as he sees fit. As we watch Reacher getting briefed and prepped in a slightly-too-small suit, we simultaneously see one of the women jogging into work. And the action begins. I’ll leave it at that in case you want to read it yourself.
Reacher fans will be able to predict how things play out. There are a few obligatory features: Reacher seems to read minds; he makes observations the average bear would not, and draws correct conclusions. There is flirtation. There is violence. He gets things right in the end. In these ways, it fits within the other Reacher stories we know and love.
What’s different here, though, is the format – and I don’t mean the e-book part, although I’m still not excited about that aspect either. No, I think I’m coming to the conclusion that short stories do not best showcase Reacher’s abilities. This is the second I’ve read, and The Second Son was interesting for the light it shed on Reacher’s past, brother Joe’s personality, and their relationship. I felt that Deep Down had some shortcomings. A lot of what I love in a full-length Reacher novel is development, the careful playing out of string, the stinginess with which we learn details, the way we get to know our characters better, often the development of a steamy relationship to boot: all things we need a full-length novel to do. While this story had all the elements Reacher needs (as observed), it didn’t give them the space they needed to grow. It didn’t do it for me. Instead, Deep Down read to me like what I fear it is: a hastily-produced holdover for Lee Child’s fans to satisfy themselves with while we await his new novel (A Wanted Man comes out in September). It was fun, and Reacher did kick butt, and it only took me 30 minutes to read – but that’s part of the problem. Only so much plot can come to fruition in a 30-minute read.
That last statement makes me wonder – is this really a problem inherent to the short story? And I don’t think it is. I’ve certainly read some very impressive, moving short stories by my favorite master of that genre, Hemingway. But you know, I don’t read a lot of short stories; I do find it a difficult genre, and I think I’m dissatisfied more often with short stories than I am with novels. New question, then: am I a poor reader of short stories, difficult to please? Or is this a difficult genre to do well in? I suspect the latter (although I’ll allow the former): with less space in which to develop characters and plot, an author has to be very precise and economical. This would help explain why Hemingway was so good at them, precision and economy being his hallmarks. And that author may need to take on less, plot-wise, so that he has time to flesh it out.
I have managed to make a rambling mess of this review. Perhaps I am not so strong on precision and economy, myself? At any rate, I found this a fine but decidedly below-average Reacher story; I am anxious for the next full-length book. Many thanks again to my mother for her loan of the e-reader so I could knock this one out on a lunch break!