The Hard Way - Lee Child

If "The Hard Way" has been my first Jack Reacher book, I might not have read a second. This is a puzzle book, spiced with graphic violence but lacking in any real emotional engagement.


I quite liked the start, Reacher, minding his own business in NYC gets pulled into the affairs of a group of mercenaries that even he can see are ethically challenged.


The first third of the book was entertaining, the usual Reacher-Figures-It-Out stuff, focused around whether or not there was a kidnapping and if there was, who the bad guy was. The only departure from previous books was that the beautiful woman Reacher sets out to rescue appears only as a photograph.


For me, things started to go wrong when Reacher discovered a former member of the mercenary team who was left behind in Africa, imprisoned and mutilated. I'm sure the details of this are not an exaggeration of what happens in Africa and it was central to the plot and motivated some of Reacher's subsequent actions but it was so long and so detailed and so repulsive that it felt like a kind of pornography.


By the second half of the book, Reacher has acquired a female partner, an attractive (of course) older woman that he spends time with. Sadly, she remained primarily a plot device to gain access to information and contacts that Reacher couldn't have achieved alone.


The second half of the book is set in England. It was fun to see how Lee Child, an English writer, would present England through the eyes of his all-American hero. I thought it was a good effort, accurate but seen from a distance. Unfortunately, Dick Hill, the audiobook narrator, struggles to do any kind of English accent and definitely can't muster a Norfolk dialect. He was bad enough to be quite distracting.


The big reveal in the second half of the book is so heavily foreshadowed that I became impatient with it.


I thought the image of Reacher tearing around the Norfolk countryside in a Mini was fun but I couldn't understand why he didn't buy or hire a GPS system. The book was published in 2006, so it pre-dates the iPhone but I was already using a portable TomTom satnav by then. Of course Reacher also needed to have the concept of a Text Message explained to him so perhaps he's just too much of a dinosaur. He occasionally comes across as aging and out of touch in this book. His Army days are getting further and further behind him and he seems to be losing context.


The denouement wasn't very satisfying. The baddy was too gaga and sadistic to be convincing. Reacher saved the day all by himself but I didn't quite believe it. And what was with recurring statements like:  "Reacher alone in the dark - invincible". Are they an attempt at humour? If Reacher was a different guy I'd suspect self-mockery but Jack Reacher wouldn't see the point.


In this book, Reacher is a puzzle-solving killing machine whose only real challenge was in deciding who he should be killing this time. Lee Child seemed to be trying to offset the lack of emotional engagement with any of the characters in the book by scaling up the violence, real and threatened, with all the subtlety of a "SAW" movie. Not a book I'd recommend to a friend.