Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Book Review: 61 Hours by Lee Child

Jack Reacher is an iconic character in the mystery/thriller genre. And Lee Child is a charming, warm human being. I saw him at a writers conference several years ago and was impressed that he was not only good-looking and intelligent, but friendly as well.

So I was disappointed when I read my first Jack Reacher novel. I don't even remember the title, but I wasn't impressed. Now, I'm a firm believer in different strokes for different folks and I don't always like popular and/or critically acclaimed authors. Elmore Leonard is one of those. I've tried several times to read one of his books and I just don't care for him. But, having had a somewhat personal connection with Lee Child (I think we exchanged five or six words outside the hotel), I was really hoping to like his writing.

Several years later, "61 Hours" was offered as a free nookbook. Since I had nothing to lose, I downloaded it to my nook and stuck it on my TBR (To Be Read) bookshelf. It's been there for several months and for some reason I decided to start reading it last week.

This is a case where offering an ebook as a freebie worked. Or will work. I was immediately drawn into the story, entranced by the setup, and fully intend to buy more of Lee Child's work in the future.

For those unfamiliar with this series, Jack Reacher is a former Army agent, skilled in all those special talents that turn mere mortals into superheroes. But he's damaged. He's constantly on the move, traveling the country, not owning so much as a spare change of underwear. He buys clothes, wears them for a few days, then throws them away. No laundry, no baggage, no address. Of course, he runs into situations where he must employ his special talents to solve a mystery or a crime.

In this novel, Jack has wangled a ride through snowy South Dakota on a tour bus. An oncoming car leads the bus driver to twitch and the bus slides off the icy road, damaged, in a snowstorm. Reacher and his fellow travelers, a group of senior citizens, are forced to wait out the storm in a small town while a new bus is sent to retrieve them.

There's something odd about this town. As a condition of having a lucrative prison complex built, supplying badly needed jobs and income from visitors and lawyers, the police department has agreed that in case of an emergency at the prison, ALL officers, including the Chief of Police, will abandon their stations and form a perimeter around the town.

The complication is that there's a band of bikers living at an abandoned military installation just outside of town. The townspeople fear the bikers and are looking for an excuse to kick them out, but they have no reason to. Until an elderly woman witnesses one of them selling a brick of meth in the parking lot outside a restaurant. She believes in doing the right thing and wants to testify in court to what she saw.

But the police know that her life is at risk. There's something going on at that military installation and the police are pretty sure it's a meth lab, but they can't just descend on the bikers without reasonable cause. The bikers certainly don't want the old lady to testify at the trial of one of them.

Jack has been put up at the home of the Assistant Chief of Police. The police figure out pretty quickly that he's not part of the tour group and, after doing some checking, decide they want to keep an eye on him and use his skills and connections to figure out what's going on at that abandoned military installation that no one seems to know the purpose of.

Things get more interesting when a lawyer is found in his car with a bullet through the middle of his forehead. Now they have concrete proof that there's someone out there who will kill to keep the case from coming to trial.

And even the Air Force seems to have forgotten the fact that they ever had a facility in South Dakota.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. There was a point about sixty pages from the end where I was positive who the killer was. I'd briefly considered this person before, but there wasn't enough to be sure yet. I was afraid I was going to be disappointed again. Sixty pages is an awful lot for the hero not to figure out whodunnit when the clues are clear to the reader. But Lee Child wasn't done yet. The tension didn't let up and the ending was taught and powerful. And left a question hanging that makes me want to buy the next book RIGHT NOW.

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I've decided that "Book Impression" sounds stupid, so I'm going back to calling these posts "Book Reviews." I don't care that they're non-standard. As far as I'm concerned, I'm reviewing books I've read.
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