movie: Jack Reacher (2012)

To review: I love Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels (no matter how far-fetched); like many “Reacher Creatures,” I was upset to learn that Tom Cruise would be playing him on the big screen. Where Reacher is something like 6’6″ and a looming giant and blonde, Cruise is short-ish and dark-haired. Plus I don’t really like Tom Cruise all that much. Husband is with me on all counts.

therefore this is a little insulting

therefore this is a little insulting

For these reasons we had made a point of not watching this movie up to now; Husband turned it down as the free movie on an airplane last year. But then came a quiet night at home when his channel-surfing was making my teeth grind, and it was free via some sort of movie-playing widget on the television (this is not my area of expertise), so what the hell.

Jack Reacher is based on the Reacher novel One Shot, set in Philly, in which an ex-army guy named Barr is accused in an apparent open-and-shut case: six shots were fired from a sniper rifle in a parking garage, and five civilians lay dead. Barr won’t speak to the police except to ask for Jack Reacher. Retired army cop Reacher is impossible to find, but lucky for the cops, shows up on his own to look into the case. Teamed up with Barr’s defense attorney – despite being rather convinced of Barr’s guilt himself – Reacher investigates, and finds (naturally) that things are more complex than they appear. In fact, there is a conspiracy, something Reacher’s fans will be familiar with. For that matter, Reacher’s fans will recognize all the elements: intrigue – problems with authority – fistfights and gunfights and ex-military camaraderie – explosive final scenes.

I had few and minor quibbles, and my reading of One Shot was so long ago that I didn’t fuss over digressions from the original plot. And despite a slight antipathy for Tom Cruise, Husband and I were both able to sort of …let that go and get into the movie. In other words, I had some hesitations but ended up enjoying this movie more than expected. Reacher’s pithy wit translated well to the screen, and the suspense and action were there and pretty solid – in spite of a totally ridiculous car chase (I mean REALLY ridiculous. besides which, in the books, Reacher is a self-acknowledged poor driver and rarely does it). I especially appreciated the moment when the Marine recognizes Reacher from his shooting skills, and that scene does come from the book.

Conclusion: I had concerns going in, but I confess I enjoyed this film. Cruise was tolerable; the humor, wit, action and suspense were all there; the plot is not to be argued with (says this Reacher fan). Touche, Tom Cruise.

Rating: 7 shots fired.

A Wanted Man by Lee Child

Jack Reacher’s extraordinary expertise intersects full-speed with the FBI and an unknown threat in rural Nebraska.

A Wanted Man is Lee Child’s 17th novel starring retired military police officer Jack Reacher, who roams the country with a toothbrush in his pocket, defeating bullies, defending the weak, solving problems and charming women. Following on the action of Worth Dying For, Reacher is trying to hitch his way cross-country to find a woman whose voice attracts him from afar. But the driver and passengers in the car that picks him up are not what they seem. Soon, Reacher is pulled into a rural Nebraska murder investigation that somehow draws the interest of the FBI, the CIA and the State Department.

Beautiful and talented women, paramilitary threats, an unidentified murder victim, kidnappings, carjackings and a child at risk allow Child’s hero to shine: Reacher knows to use his brains and investigative skills as well as his brawn and weapons training to overcome the enemy. His skill at arithmetic–what Reacher called in an earlier novel a “junior idiot savant” gift for numbers–is particularly useful here.

A Wanted Man delivers expertly paced building of tension, thrilling, full-throttle action and kick-butt fight scenes, all wrapped in a tautly structured mystery with military flavor and international implications. Fans love Reacher because he’s smart, physically unbeatable and chivalrous, and here they’ll find everything they’ve come to expect. Newcomers will have no problem joining mid-series; as usual, the hardest part is waiting for the next installment.

This review originally ran in the Sept. 18, 2012 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. To subscribe, click here, and you’ll receive two issues per week of book reviews and other bookish fun!

Rating: 6 shots fired.

Deep Down by Lee Child

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!

Rating: 4 tough guys.

Bad Luck and Trouble by Lee Child

I began reading Lee Child in late 2010, with Echo Burning, and loved him. In 2011, I ran through almost the entire Jack Reacher series. I’m glad I saved this one for 2012, because it’s the last one I hadn’t read yet (not the last in the series, you realize, but the last that I got to). It was a treat, and now I’m left waiting for him to write more books. I’m concerned that it may be a little while because maybe he’ll be busy helping make the One Shot movie. I don’t know, are authors involved, or is his work done?

That’s right, they’re making a movie out of One Shot, and so the controversy begins. Like many Reacher fans, I would love to see film versions of the whole series, but: the Hollywood folks have gone in the wrong direction picking a Reacher. For those who don’t know, Reacher is a charismatic, handsome, intelligent, super-strong post-military man, 6’5″ and about 250 pounds, and blonde. And they’ve chosen Tom Cruise to play him. Sigh.

The interwebs are in uproar over this choice; not surprisingly, followers of Reacher don’t feel that the short, skinny-ish, dark-haired Cruise can play Reacher appropriately. Apparently Lee Child has come to terms with this choice, which is something that I, personally, have not come to terms with yet. I will not be able to bring myself to see this movie. I think the movie – and if it goes that far, the film franchise of Reacher movies – will end up having a different fan base than the books. I fear that no one who has come to know and love the written Reacher will be able to love Cruise in that role.

But! Reacher-in-media updates aside, I was writing a book review. Sorry! Back on track.

Bad Luck and Trouble opens with a gruesome death, and then checks in with Reacher. The former military policeman has been roaming the country with a folding toothbrush in his pocket and is not looking for any trouble, but his past catches up with him. Specifically, Frances Neagley (whom we met in Without Fail) makes contact, requesting his help. A member of their one-time elite and closer-than-blood special investigations unit has been thrown out of a helicopter and, as Reacher will repeat, you don’t throw his friends out of helicopters and get away with it. A small group of Reacher-esque badasses thus reunite to avenge their friend’s death and save the world.

This is the 16th Reacher novel I’ve read, and I confess there are a number of predictable elements. For example: Reacher’s side will win. Sorry if this spoils the ending, but he always does. For another, the hot chick will insist on sleeping with him. And finally, he’ll fade out into the sunset rather than settle down at the end, after winning, and sleeping with the hot chick.

But you know what? Predictability in these areas doesn’t lessen my enjoyment. Reacher’s cleverness and the fast-paced action and ass-kicking have never gotten old. And the action itself is not predictable; I was trying right up to the end to figure out whodunit and how we were going to get out of this pickle. Knowing Reacher will get out of the pickle is not the same as knowing how he’ll do it. I continue to eat these books up, and will continue to do so. Child, more please!

Item of interest: Bad Luck and Trouble included a much more math-heavy side of Reacher than I can remember having seen before. We know he’s good with numbers, does complicated arithmetic problems in his head for fun and all that, but this special skill (I believe he calls it a “junior idiot savant” ability) plays a larger role here than usual, which is fun if you’re into that sort of thing.

The Affair by Lee Child (audio)

The brand-newest Reacher, just out a few weeks now, is another flashback or prequel: it’s 1997, and Reacher is still in the army. He is sent out to Carter Crossing, Mississippi to do damage control on a murder case that threatens the army’s good reputation. There’s a lot of politics involved: the local army base is sending companies secretly into Kosovo, and one of the captains in question is the son of a senator in the Armed Services Committee. It develops that this very captain has some connections to the murdered woman – or maybe his father the senator does. Reacher breezes into town intending to remain under cover while investigating the case parallel to the above-board MP working from the base; but his cover is immediately blown by the local sheriff, a former Marine MP herself. The one murdered woman turns out to be the third in a series of similar killings – the first two having been ignored apparently because they were black. And then more people start dying. What exactly is going on here? And who can Reacher trust? He’s inclined to trust Elizabeth Devereaux, the sheriff, but he’s getting conflicting messages from various sources at the army.

The Affair is in several ways a standard Reacher production, and in several ways not. Reacher does his investigating; he’s a smart guy and he figures things out; he eventually will get the bad guy(s), no doubt about that. There is rather less ass-kicking in this book, though. Husband was disappointed, and I was just flat-out surprised at how easily and relatively bloodlessly the hooligans were taken down. There is rather more sex – Reacher does tend to get laid in many of the books, but the sex got a little more attention in this one. It was well done – I’m not complaining – but I was a little confused at the shifting focus. I wonder if Child has figured out that he has a number of female fans swooning over Reacher and decided to play up to them (us)? As a swooning Reacher fan myself, let me say: more ass-kicking please! I don’t begrudge him the sex but that was never the primary focus, and I’d rather stick with the classic model of ass-kicking with sex on the side, rather than the other way around.

This bit is very slightly spoilery… I had some trouble suspending disbelief as we discovered all the mistakes made by the illustrious Elizabeth Devereaux in investigating the murders before Reacher’s arrival. If she’s such a veteran hotshot MP herself, how did she miss that there was no blood on the white collar of the woman who had her THROAT CUT? Etc. She beats Neagley at the mind game at which the latter supposedly excels but makes all kinds of amateurish mistakes in the murder investigation. It just didn’t ring true for me. End spoiler. But hey, maybe I’m just mad at the whole Reacher camp right now because… have you heard? They’ve cast Tom Cruise, of all people, to play him in the movie they’re making of One Shot! Blasphemy, says I. Reacher is supposed to be 6’3″ and 230+ pounds, muscular, and blonde. Sigh. And I’m not alone – you should see the Reacher fans raising hell over at the facebook page.

But all in all, this was another satisfying edition of the Reacher adventure. I liked it. It just wasn’t my favorite. I wonder where Child is going to take Reacher from here? It occurs to me that he’s getting older (possibly a reason to keep writing prequels!) – but Child came up with another possible plot thread here: the younger version of Reacher, named Duncan Monroe, just a bit earlier in his career and otherwise apparently a spitting image. I guess we could always revisit Monroe as Reacher ages. What do you do with an aging hero? Realistically we could see him forced to accept some realities and calm down a bit; but action/adventure/thriller/hero/mysteries don’t always take the realistic route! At any rate I’m still hooked in. What’s next, Reacher?

guest review: In Session by MJ Rose, from Mom

I posted my review of In Session a few days ago; now here’s my mother with a very different impression of it. For fairness’ sake. 🙂

In Session is a short but sweet introduction to the work of M. J. Rose and her character Dr. Morgan Snow, a sex therapist. I’ve never read her, but I will be looking for more of her work. The premise of this short story is that she manages to make contact with three fictional characters and involve them in her work. She makes a very satisfactory connection with Reacher, Lee Child’s hero, and the only one I have any experience with.

The first session (as in therapy session) is with Cotton Malone, who’s the creation of Steve Berry. Dr. Snow finds a way into his antiquarian bookstore to look at an erotic book from the 15th century. Discussion of the book leads to some discussion of his personal hang-ups, and a point is scored in favor of reflecting on and starting a resolution of these issues.

Calling this work erotic seems a bit of a stretch; there is certainly a lot more explicitness in many romance novels, I think. Perhaps in a full-length work, there’s more opportunity for a theme to blossom. In these sessions with the doctor, the issue of a sexual nature in couples’ lives is strong, but, as it should be, it’s also mixed with other aspects of people’s needs, such as dominance and trust. Eroticism is not the focus of the doctor’s work, but rather an important part in human nature that’s her area of expertise.

In the next two sessions, she meets with Reacher and Barry Eisler’s John Rain. I have to presume that she gives them accurate characterization, as all three authors have approved – and applauded – the work. The meetings are not contrived, but arranged so that the sexual issues can be raised with men who would never have consented to any kind of therapy. This book is just a taste of Rose, but I see lots of promise in her character and style.

I read a digital galley from NetGalley.

Thanks Mom! I’m glad you liked it.

In Session by MJ Rose

In Session involves a sex therapist named Dr. Morgan Snow (MJ Rose’s serial character), who undertakes to treat three heroes of serial fiction: Steve Berry’s Cotton Malone, Barry Eisler’s John Rain, and finally Lee Child’s Jack Reacher. Those of you who follow this blog will recognize which of these guys brought me to Dr. Snow’s office – I’ve never read any Berry or Eisler, but Reacher is my fictional main squeeze these days. That said, my brief glimpses of Rain and Malone weren’t bad; maybe I’ll check them out one day, too.

Rose apparently challenged the three authors’ heroes to sex therapy sessions, and they told her if Dr. Snow could wrangle the guys she could treat them. So this book consists of three episodes in which the good doctor meets each of the three men, outside of a standard doctor’s office/therapy setting, and chats with them – to some effect.

I had no history with MJ Rose and didn’t know what to expect. The blurb my mother got from NetGalley referred to Rose (or this book? it wasn’t exactly clear) as… Erotica, Health, Mind & Body, Literature & Fiction, Mystery & Thrillers, Romance. Wowza! What the heck have I gotten myself into? Well, I think these genres must refer to Rose’s work in total, because they don’t all apply to In Session. One sex scene is described in minimal detail; it doesn’t qualify as Erotica. Health, Mind & Body must refer to the therapist character; but her work isn’t covered in any depth. Literature & Fiction? I don’t think so (more in a minute). Mystery & Thrillers is the most likely candidate, just based on the home environments of the three male leads, although there’s not much mystery & thriller in their stories here. And not much Romance, either.

I wasn’t very impressed. Dr. Snow approaches one man under false pretenses and sneaks him some therapy while he wasn’t looking. The next she approaches with an appeal to his services, and they both learn from their interaction. And the third stumbles upon her in a time of need, and he ends up telling her (upon her repeated demands) about a particular sexual experience. In each case, the characters are completely lacking in development and dimension. The therapy is pitifully simplistic and straightforward. Dr. Snow repeats a few lines to several “patients.” The therapy – the growth, the learning about oneself and making progress as a sexual or emotional being – is too facile to feel real. Would it help if I came in with a familiarity with all three male heroes, rather than just one? Maybe; but the Reacher scene wasn’t really any more satisfying than the others. His voice didn’t sound like Reacher to me. Perhaps these tales were just too short. I read them in about an hour (total); there wasn’t time for the characters to develop or for there to really be a problem, a solution, a catharsis, a resolution, any meaningful change. But that reasoning isn’t fair to the short story format, because we all know that there are plenty of artists who paint beautiful pictures in brief snippets. It’s certainly possible to develop a character and, well, tell a story in the short story format. It’s just not done here.

I think the appeal of these three stories is in seeing your favorite hero in a different light, maybe getting into a different aspect of his character. It was a fun concept in theory; it got me: I wanted to see Reacher on the sex-therapy couch. But I was disappointed.

Anybody else check this one out? Any positive impressions? I think my mother liked it and maybe she’ll tell us about it here. How about any fans of Rain or Malone??

I read a digital galley from NetGalley.

The Enemy by Lee Child (audio)

The 8th book in Child’s Jack Reacher series is a flashback, a prequel, set in Reacher’s days of employment with the U.S. Army. He is an MP (military police) major and it’s New Year’s Eve, 1989. The Berlin Wall has just come down, Soviet Russia is collapsing, and the U.S. military is facing major changes. Reacher has just been transferred from Panama to Fort Bird in North Carolina when people start dying. He enlists the help of young Lieutenant Summer and the two of them quickly find themselves drawing outside the lines – the military establishment repeatedly orders them off the case, makes threats, and finally demands their arrest. As we expect of Reacher, though, he solves the crimes and fixes everybody up right.

This is fun for several reasons. We finally see Reacher on the job. We see him and his brother Joe interacting; Joe is only treated in the past tense in the other books. (Well, there is the short story The Second Son also, in which the brothers are teenagers.) We meet Reacher’s mother and learn something about her past that her sons never knew; this is an especially poignant moment.

A few things are different in this book, too. For one thing, Reacher does fix up the problems and solve the mysteries; but it doesn’t end on quite as hopeful a note as the other books tend to. In his retired, roaming life, Reacher generally sets off into the sunset at the end of the book, headed for unknown adventures, with a world of possibilities ahead of him. At the end of The Enemy, he’s still in the army, but things have changed irrevocably; the end of his career is foreshadowed, and we begin to understand why he chose to get out. There’s a sadness. He wasn’t able to right all the wrongs. Something that’s not different in this book: I’m sad to see Summer go. But the characters we come to love in each book are always necessarily gone at the end; Reacher moves on.

Suspension of disbelief is necessary in every Reacher book; he’s too good, too strong, too smart, too perfectly-timed and awesome to be real. But I have a good time and I can play along. This time I had a little more difficultly with the suspension of disbelief, though, because he went so far off the reservation while in the army. I’m accustomed to seeing him not play nice, but he’s usually a renegade wanderer; it’s a little more bizarre to see him be just as much a rebellious loner while he’s still in the military.

But putting that quibble aside, it’s a highly enjoyable book as usual, and fans of the series will appreciate the backstory and further character development (of Reacher, as well as his brother and mother) provided by this flashback.

book beginnings on Friday: The Enemy by Lee Child (audio)

Thanks to Katy at A Few More Pages for hosting this meme. To participate, share the first line or two of the book you are currently reading and, if you feel so moved, let us know what your first impressions were based on that first line.

And we’re back to Lee Child and Jack Reacher on audio. Although the 8th in the series, this one’s a prequel, a flashback to the time when Reacher was still an active MP in the army. In fact, it’s the new year of 1990, and the wall has just come down and the fall of Soviet Russia is bringing change to military structures. The Reacher family also suffers a private tragedy, and private revelations.

It begins:

As serious as a heart attack. Maybe those were Ken Kramer’s last words, like a final explosion of panic in his mind as he stopped breathing and dropped into the abyss. He was out of line, in every way there was, and he knew it. He was where he shouldn’t have been, with someone he shouldn’t have been with, carrying something he should have kept in a safer place.

No surprise here: I’m loving it.

What are you reading this weekend?

Without Fail by Lee Child (audio)

Reacher is back!

This one follows Echo Burning, my very first Lee Child read. Reacher has just hitchhiked cross-country, from Los Angeles to Atlantic City, with a pair of musicians who, while minor characters, I came to appreciate. Reacher’s interactions with these minor players help to form his character as a basically good-hearted and generous guy; he goes out of his way for them. In Atlantic City, Reacher is tracked down by a Secret Service woman who knows him through his brother Joe, her ex-boyfriend. She wants to hire him to assassinate the Vice President elect. Weird, right? No, she wants him to sort of mock-assassinate. It’s meant to be a security audit. But of course, the reason why she wants a security audit is… someone is trying to kill the Vice President. (Elect).

I have to confess that my first reaction to the plot premise was… do Vice Presidents really get assassinated? I thought the old joke was that they were sort of insignificant, until somebody assassinates the President. At any rate, I gladly buy in because it’s a fascinating storyline. So Reacher is working with Froehlich – that’s Joe’s ex, the Secret Service ace – and Neagley, a fellow retired MP and general badass who Reacher calls in. Neagley was a fun character to meet, too: she’s got skills and smarts much like Reacher, and they’re clearly pretty close, but she also has baggage that I’d love to learn more about in a later novel. The layers that are discovered! Well, so we spend a lot of time in DC for obvious reasons, and also in North Dakota where the VP-elect has been serving as Senator; and the final scene takes place in the middle of nowhere in Froehlich’s home state of Wyoming. It’s a well-traveled book (have you been counting? CA, NJ, DC, ND, and WY) and naturally ends with a bang.

I have just a handful of new observations with this listen. As stated, I’m really enjoying some of the minor or side characters. I have also noted something in this book that I’ve been unconsciously appreciating throughout this series: Child presents back-story, technical details, and general exposition in a smooth and natural way. You know how sometimes, if we need to know that the kid goes to soccer practice every Wednesday, the mom will say to the dad, “Can you pick up Billy from his usual Wednesday night soccer practice this week even though I usually do?” And that’s silly, because real people don’t put in all that detail in dialog when the other person already knows it? Child does it better.

Also, I’m beginning to notice speech patterns. Reacher has a way of ending a lot of his statements with a rhetorical “…right?” As in, “so, we need to get there first, right?” It’s just one of those colloquialisms people have. But what I think I noticed in this book is… other people have the same verbal habits. I’m not sure that’s entirely realistic, since one of the features of the Reacher books is travel, geographic instability, everybody being from different places. Reacher even emphasizes this, observing from people’s speech and clothing that they come from different parts of the country; he’s really big on regionalism. I like those touches. But everyone having the same rhetorical “…right?” seems somehow less authentic. I don’t know, it’s just something I noticed.

Along the same lines, I think I’m beginning to hear narrator Dick Hill (who I love for this series!) use the same voices for several different characters. All women, I think, and that may explain it; it may be difficult for his deep man’s voice to come up with different female-character-voices. But still. I guess I’m beginning to recognize patterns. Is it perhaps time for a break from Reacher? Ha ha ha. NO! I’m still loving it. Don’t take my Reacher away.

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