Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Mother of Mercy, Is This the End of Reacher?

I once got into trouble for revealing, in a review of Walter Mosley’s A Little Yellow Dog (1995), that Mouse--Easy Rawlins’ trusty and homicidal buddy--was apparently dead. As it turned out, Mosley changed his mind and brought Mouse back to life in his next book.

I don’t want to make that same sort of mistake again. But a close reading of Lee Child’s superb new Jack Reacher thriller, 61 Hours (Delacorte), leads me to think of Edward G. Robinson’s last line in the 1931 film Little Caesar: “Mother of mercy, is this the end of Rico?”

The biggest hint I can offer is not that Reacher has disappeared after a toxic explosion near the frigid town of Bolton, South Dakota. Our Jack has certainly disappeared before, and always managed to come back. But in this case he has built up a close vocal relationship with a woman in Virginia, and at the book’s end she still hasn’t heard a word from him a month after the blast.

Reacher arrived in Bolton the way he usually enters a new town--by accident. This time, he’s hitched a ride on a tour bus taking a group of senior citizens to Mount Rushmore. The bus is driven off the icy road by a coincidence--another Child specialty. Reacher and the driver help the other passengers stay alive until help comes. Then, back in Bolton, Reacher is drafted/blackmailed into helping the local cops solve a very strange mystery: What does an odd cement structure in the middle of an empty field, built 50 years before, have to do with a thriving local meth industry run by bikers, and with a Mexican drug lord called Plato?

Plato is the most frightening and fascinating fictional heavy in recent memory. Here’s how he is introduced: “Plato was dressed in chinos and a white button-down shirt and black leather penny loafer shoes, all from the Brooks Brothers’ boys’ collection. The shoes and the clothes fit very well, but he looked odd in them. They were made for fat white middle-class American children, and Plato was old and brown and squat and had a shaved bullet head ...” (Plato, who is 4-foot-11, once cut off a man’s legs to match his own height, after the man called him a dwarf.)

We also learn a lot more about Jack Reacher in these pages:
He lived nowhere, and always had. He had been born the son of a serving military officer, in a Berlin infirmary, and since the day he had been carried out of it swaddled in blankets he had been dragged all over the world ...
I could go on for pages, talking about how Child gets us to believe precisely what it’s like inside a top security prison, or how extreme cold affects the human body. But I don’t want to spoil an instant of the pleasure you’ll derive from reading 61 Hours.

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