The Midnight Line by Lee Child is the 22nd book in the Jack Reacher series.
I dip into the Jack Reacher novels every few years and have enjoyed these visits with the wandering, destructive, one-man tango. Lee Child's latest plot is a decent one. On a stop while traveling toward the Lake Superior region, Reacher spots a 2005 West Point graduation ring in a pawn shop window and contemplates why someone would have hocked such a prized accomplishment. He starts threading his way to an answer when his inquiry leads him to the anemic trope of a name, Jimmy Rat, and you guessed it, violence follows:
Jimmy Rat said nothing. Reacher watched the window with his left eye. With his right he saw Jimmy Rat nod. The reflection in the glass showed the guy behind winding up a big roundhouse right. Clearly the plan was to smack Reacher on the ear. Maybe topple him off the chair. At least soften him up a little.
Reacher chose the path of least resistance. He ducked his head, and let the punch scythe through the empty air above it. Then he bounced back up, and launched from his feet, and twisted, and used his falling-backward momentum to jerk his elbow into the guy's kidney, which was rotating around into position just in time. It was a good solid hit. The guy went down hard. Reacher fell back in his chair and sat there like absolutely nothing had happened.
If you groaned, like I did, over “Didn't work” and “sat there like absolutely nothing had happened,” rest assured this Reacher novel has a lot of flow like early Robert B. Parker (Mortal Stakes, Early Autumn) and Elmore Leonard (at any stage). Lee Child seems to be cast on the same ocean of bountiful returns, moving each chapter along with fluid, suspense-filled hooks. But one aspect that drives me bonkers is an overwhelming tendency to want to edit The Midnight Line for unnecessary prattle. Example: when Jack is sizing up the West Point ring, Child writes, “Reacher wouldn't have gotten it on any of his fingers. Not even his left-hand pinkie, not even past the nail. Certainly not past the first knuckle. It was tiny.” That is unneeded descriptive filler. Not past the first knuckle would have sufficed. There's enough of that kind of fluff in this book to stuff a mattress and several pillows.
Here's our hero, a few pages later, taking on several opponents:
Reacher moved to meet him, fast, his mind on the invisible geometry unspooling behind him, figuring he would get just shy of three seconds of pure one-on-one, before the other two arrived behind him.
Three seconds was plenty. The lone guy thought he was ready, but he wasn't. He was thinking all wrong. His subconscious mind was telling him his best play was to hang back a little. Human nature. Millions of years of evolution. Then the front part of his brain was telling him no, if a confrontation was inevitable, then logically his interests would be best served by staging it as close to reinforcements as he could get. Therefore he should move toward the other two. Not away from them.
The stop-start impulses in the guy's head produced a sudden forward lurch, which brought him too close too soon.
Poor bastard never had a chance. And neither do you if you are expecting anything more beyond risible battles and padded, straightforward storytelling. But, dammit, it does have that abovementioned flow, and I had to venture on to find out where the trail of the ring was going to lead our hero. Recommended, with some slight reservation, for die-hard fans.
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David Cranmer is the publisher and editor of BEAT to a PULP. Latest books from this indie powerhouse include the alternate history novella Leviathan and sci-fi adventure Pale Mars. David lives in New York with his wife and daughter.