I couldn’t have done it everyday. It works that there is merely one such event per year. As Michelle Chang says in the note she leaves for Reacher at the start of The Midnight Line, comparing him to New York: “I love to visit, but I could never live there.”
But this year was different. For one reason or another, I was a few days late opening the book. By which time I had heard and read a few reviews. A “gentler” Jack Reacher awaits I was told.
Oh, shit. I don’t read Reacher for gentleness, at least not in the modern sense of the word, although he is of course “a veray parfait gentil knight’ in the old sense. But no worries. In less than 20 pages, he had already dispatched seven bikers outside a bar – “six fat guys and a runt” he says. “That’s a walk in the park.”
And that’s pretty much it as far as traditional Reacher is concerned. Oh, there is that minor contretemps with three cowboys, two thirds of the way in, but he only kills one of them. And for the remainder of the novel, he becomes increasingly emotionally involved in his quest.
I won’t spoil it by giving you too much of the plot, except to say that this is a traditional romance narrative in which our hero undergoes his various tests and trials to achieve his goal. And in case we don’t get it, that transcendent goal is a ring. Yes, a ring. Belonging to a woman. And the location is the sparsely populated, wide open spaces of the American mid-west, with long blacktops running endlessly, where your nearest neighbour is twenty or more miles away and probably up to no good.
Like living on opioids. Or dealing them. Or both.
What distinguishes this Reacher, though, and this Lee Child novel, is the emotional engagement with the characters. These are not the usual stereotypes. The baddies are not all bad. The addicts are real people, with reasons. And the issue which Reacher finds himself dealing with is a real issue.
One can sense the anger of Lee Child and his protagonist on every page in the last third of the book, his 22nd and certainly best for some time.
“We fought for freedom” Reacher says. “And this is what freedom looks like.”
Today from the everysmith vaults: Dylan in Osaka, Japan from February 1978. This is what “Live at Budokan”, recorded a week later, should have been.