“Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “A sheer pleasure.” – Tana French. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville. “The effortless cool of Elmore Leonard at his peak.” – Ray Banks. “A fine writer at the top of his game.” – Lee Child.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Nobody Move, This Is A Review: 61 HOURS by Lee Child

Lee Child’s 14th offering reads like High Noon blended with the Coen Brothers’ Fargo, in which our strong, silent hero finds himself stuck in a blizzard-trapped town, reluctantly helping out the beleaguered local police force.
  Child is an unusual thriller writer in that his novels - which all feature the same protagonist, Jack Reacher - are sometimes told in the first person voice, others in the third. 61 HOURS is a third-person narrative, which affords an emotional distance from Reacher. This is not strictly speaking a necessary device, as Reacher is an impassive character who is rarely if ever given to emotional displays.
  That said, Reacher is himself a likeable character. Although he has been compared to James Bond, his status as a drifter (albeit an ex-military man) precludes him from carrying weapons in 61 HOURS. He proves himself very resourceful in other ways, however, and his eye for detail - and Lee Child’s impressive research - is frequently entertaining.
  On the downside, the fact that he is a series character lessens the tension somewhat, given that Jack Reacher will inevitably reach the end of the story in one piece, regardless of how high are the odds stacked against him. Mind you, 61 HOURS ends with an explosive climax, from which it’s difficult to see Reacher escaping. (We’re promised another Jack Reacher novel in six months’ time, so you would have to assume that he survives.)
  Child also creates a number of interesting secondary characters, chief among them the local deputy of police Peterson. A hardworking, blue-collar guy, Peterson represents the morality of the piece, along with Janet Salter, an aging librarian who has witnessed a murder and is under police protection. The Chief of Police, Holland, is potentially a more fascinating character, given that his moral compass is skewed, but Child tends to create characters who are either all good or all bad. A Mexican drug lord called Plato accounts for the latter in this novel; again a potentially interesting character, his story becomes little more than a litany of ruthless and often lethal actions as the narrative progresses.
  61 HOURS is neither emotionally nor morally complex. That may well be the price readers of high-concept thrillers pay, but there are clear hints that Child is capable of far more complex work than is evidenced in this novel. Despite the attention to detail, and the fact that Child roots the story in an utterly plausible reality, there’s a cartoon quality to Jack Reacher and his world in terms of its black-and-white depictions of good and evil.
  For that reason, 61 HOURS demands a suspension of disbelief from the reader that can be hard to sustain. As a kind of trade-off, Child maintains a blistering pace throughout, employing brevity when it comes to chapter length, with each chapter ending on a cliff-hanger.
  The caveats are minor, though. This was my first Jack Reacher novel, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Child’s style is terse and economical, and while the book is a page-turner, the swift pace never felt rushed. - Declan Burke

5 comments:

Sean Patrick Reardon said...

I have been wondering about Lee Child and this Jack Reacher cat. I know Stephen King is a fan and has used the term "manfiction" when describing Mr. Child's writing. Both of these items made me think that I should give it a go, eventually.

I have also read some interviews Child has done and he seems to have the mindset of an author I might enjoy reading. Your review, excellent by the way, has convinced me to give his first Reacher novel a go in the future.

Kate said...

Great review. While it sounds like an OK book overall, I don't like that it lacks depth, and not all detective novels have to do that. For example, have you ever read The Deadfall Project? Its complex and fun.

patman83 said...

A couple of very minor corrections. First, a murder was not the crime Janet Salter witnessed. Also at the end of the book a Jack Reacher novel is not promised in the fall. The page only says that a "Lee Child thriller" is coming Fall 2010. If you read the UK version and it is different than the US version, which I just finished reading, I stand corrected. :-)

Declan Burke said...

Patman 83 - Nice name, squire. And fair cop on the Janet Salter comment - mea culpa.

I didn't get the info about the new Jack Reacher novel from my copy of 61 Hours, though; I'm just saying that we - as readers - are promised another Jack Reacher novel in the Fall. It's called Worth Dying For, and it's coming (in the UK, at least) at the end of September.

Cheers, Dec

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