Sunday, June 8, 2008

Lee Child's "Nothing To Lose"

This summer weather is making me lax (in the nineties three days running now, and no posts from me), so I suppose it's appropriate that I'm already deep into the trashy pleasures of the season.

Well--that's not fair. Lee Child isn't trashy. I've posted about him before, and this new book, if anything, firms up my respect for this writer; he's certainly among the very best writers of actual sentences working in the very limited thriller genre, by which I mean there is no overwriting, no howlers, no fakery, no gratuitous anything. It's just solid, straightforward mystery, suspense, and generous detail. And in spite of a few reviews (well--Amazon customer comments) suggesting that this one isn't up to Child's usual standards, I think it's one of the best ever.

In case you don't recall: Child's hero is an ex-military policeman named Jack Reacher, whose disillusionment with the Army has led him to become a drifter, albeit a spectacularly skillful one who is occasionally called in by his former colleagues to handle some awful situation. In this new book, however, Reacher happens upon the drama by hitchhiking into it: he arrives in a small town in Colorado, enters a diner, and is completely ignored by the waitress. Then, minutes later, a quartet of goons drives up, walks in, and tells him to get out of town. Reacher demands--and gets--his coffee, then he he declines, with understated violence, to obey the goons' commands.

Reacher's curiosity about the town leads him to team up with a cop from the next town over (she's hot stuff, natch), and the two of them uncover a bizarre conspiracy that involves military contracting, stolen uranium, and end-times religion. Along the way, Child takes a few well-aimed potshots at the sorry state of US veterans' hospitals, the Iraq war, and the disastrous stop-loss policy that's been gutting our military. It's good stuff.

But the plot is less interesting than the fabric of the story--Child, British-born, somehow has managed to master all things American, and his remote Colorado towns are incredibly vivid and absorbing. He knows the names of everything, and he knows how everything works, and he sees all the tiny things that bring a place to life. A rental sign has been "lettered in a careful amateur." The Rocky mountains at night are "faintly visible, dim and blue and bulky, with their north-facing snow channels lit up like ghostly blades." In a motel bathroom, "The motel soap was white and came in a small thin paper-wrapped morsel, and he used the whole bar." The key to a long-abandoned rooming house apartment is described this way: "It was a worn brass item with a length of furred string tied through the hole. The string had an old metal eyelet on it, as if the eyelet was all that was left of a paper label." We never have to endure hearing about Reacher's favorite jazz CD's, or his drinking problem, or his rocky relationship with his estranged wife and son. He's just a conduit for all things exciting and interesting and fun; his rootlessness is a profound relief.

At the moment, I'm not in the mood for artful elaboration--it's too hot to show off. Child is just the ticket.


Brent~Jamie~Ansley~Ace said...

Thanks for the suggestion. I'm putting "Nothing to Lose" on my ever-growing summer reading list.

Mr. Saflo said...

I read The Hard Way a while back and quite liked it. Severely pared down from the slog of Killing Floor. A fun passage I marked for later use:

"[Bad guy] was dead long before he hit the ground. He was too small to go down like a tree. He just melted into the beaten earth like he was a part of it."

Anonymous said...

Ah, glad you dove in for another try. Yeah, those first few were a little dumb. He got way better.

b~j~a~a, glad I could help, perhaps you could trade in a few names for novels.