“It’s entertaining in a holiday from the normal kind of way” – Night School by Lee Child

Let’s talk. In short sentences. About what reading Lee Child is like. It’s like the stuttering. Of a machine gun. And sometimes you’ll ask yourself. Does this actually qualify? As a sentence?

We’ve never read any of Lee Child’s books before. Although we are aware that there is a popular marketing line on them: “It is said one of his novels featuring his hero Jack Reacher is sold somewhere in the world every twenty seconds.” His publisher’s legal team will have been all over that so you can bet your ass that it’s as close to being true as you can get. Imagine that? Every twenty seconds. Blimey.

Night School is the 21st Jack Reacher book. If you Google or Good Reads for a bit, you’ll see a fair share of people saying it’s not his best, that the Jack Reacher books set in the army (like this one) are by far the best, that you can read this one without having read any of the others, that you shouldn’t read this without having read any of the others, that you’ll read it in a single sitting and that people still can’t believe that Tom Cruise was cast as Jack Reacher in both of the films now. A lot of Jack Reacher fans remain sore about that casting and mention it even when they are talking about the new book which, you know, hasn’t yet been made into a film starring Tom Cruise so isn’t altogether pertinent.

It’s 1996 – so chronologically ‘before’ some of the other Jack Reacher books. The novel opens with Jack Reacher (or Reacher as most people call him – we’ll call him Reacher from this point on, as if we know him, as if we’re friends) receiving a medal for something we are not entirely clued into the details of (he went somewhere, he killed someone, it was off the books). He is then sent on the equivalent of a health and safety training course and he is mightily bummed because, you know, he’s Jack Reacher and when he arrives at the place where he is to undertake the equivalent of a health and safety training course he meets a couple of other guys, one from the CIA and one from the FBI and each of those guys had just come back from something pretty prestigious and each of them are feeling pretty bummed to be sent on the equivalent of a health and safety training course. Which is when Reacher starts to think to himself, hang on one cotton-picking minute. Maybe there is more to this equivalent of a health and safety training course than meets the eye… And you’ll be unsurprised to learn that there is more! And it’s about as top secret as a secret can be! And the fate of the planet hangs in the balance. Or several major cities at any rate.

We’re being somewhat facetious. There is a good reason why Lee Child’s books sell like the proverbial hot potatoes. We started reading (because we think it’s important to step outside of our comfort zones and try what others try to see what we are missing) in a sort of nit-picky vein (see that opening para) and it really wasn’t too long before the narrative had us by the lapels. Child has a nice way of switching between protagonists (Reacher and his buddy are in Germany at night; at the same time it’s morning in Jalalabad and some dodgy terrorist sorts are working out complex financing; back in the good old US of A it’s whatever the time it is and Mr CIA and Mr FBI are doing their thing). It’s all a bit Homeland (and we suspect Child has pitched this narrative when he did – ie 1996 – because technology will be such right now that much of the twists and turns of this page turner would be rendered moot by recent developments), and yes ok there are moments that feel like “we’ve gone so many pages without a fight, let’s have Reacher kick a Nazi’s ass in a bar”, but for all that it feels super adrenalised (we thought CJ Box could fashion a page turner but Child is something else). And yet, where Box is very definitely for us, Child is not. It’s entertaining in a holiday from the normal kind of way but, having sampled its delights, we don’t feel like we’d be in any hurry to find out what Reacher did next.

Any Cop?: We’re sure that Reacher fans will either like this or think that there are other better Reacher books out there. For the rest of us: we think you can read this without having read a single other Child book (we weren’t confused and didn’t feel we were missing anything) – so if you fancy a proverbial holiday from the normal, jump in. You could do a lot worse. And Child needs that stat to remain true as well. Every twenty seconds. you know?

 

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