"The Enemy", the ninth Jack Reacher book, takes us back to January 1990, just after the fall of the Berlin Wall, when Reacher was a Major in the Military Police.
One of the things I enjoyed about the previous book, "The Persuader" was the glimpses it gave me of who Jack Reacher was when he was in the Army. It left me hungry for more. Perhaps it had the same impact on Lee Child because "The Enemy is set entirely in Reacher's Army past.
"The Enemy" is a sort of "Origins of Wolverine" book. it deepened my understanding of how the Jack Reacher I met in the previous books came to be the way he is.
"The Enemy" explores how the US Army works via an investigation into the death of General. The plot is tight, complex and satisfying, spiced by conflicts with an asshole superior officer with an agenda and a larger mystery around a coordinated but unexplained large-scale re-assignment of Special Unit MPs.
I know nothing of the US Army other than what I've seen of their bases in Germany and the UK but I found Child's depiction of it convincing and compelling: the sheer scale of the organization as it was back then, the way bases are the same everywhere in the world, right down to the menus in the Officers' Club, the power of rank, the freedom to work the system, the complete lack of control on where and under whom you will serve.
I enjoyed seeing Reacher outside the US, in Germany (where the US bases make everything seem as close to home as possible) and France in which Reacher, son of a French woman, seems more at home than in North Carolina. I was fascinated to see how Reacher behaved with his older brother, a man who was killed in the first Jack Reacher book, "Killing Floor" and who's ghost was evoked in the sixth book "Without Fail" when Reacher is approached by his brother's ex-girl friend.
Reacher in 1990 seemed less damaged and less lost than the Reacher in the other books. The Army and his family give him stability and a sense of purpose. It becomes clear how the loss of these things would change him for the worse.
But the 1990 Reacher is still recognisable. The things that make him scary are already present: his tendency towards violent confrontation, his inablity to let things go, his habit of using others to achieve his own agenda and his willingness to appoint himself as both judge and executioner. The things that prevent me from writing him off as a psychotic thug are also there: hisdrive to do the right thing, his willingness to take the consequences for his actions and his strong desire to keep the Army the way he thinks it should be.
"The Enemy" is a well-written period criminal investigation novel that would be attractive as a stand-alone novel. The insight's that it brings on Reacher's origins move it up into a compelling read and encourages me to thank that the Reacher novels will continue to get better, which is good news as I still have eleven more to go.