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Posted: May 31, 2020

Personal is a different Jack Reacher novel

Book Review

By Derryll White

Child, Lee (2014).  Personal.

Of course, another Jack Reacher novel, the latest of 18 Lee Child has written.  I haven’t read Lee Child for a while, but I have always liked Jack Reacher’s approach to life – no encumbrances. In the past that has meant no house, no car, no permanent girlfriend – just a toothbrush and the clothes on his back.  And a concern for justice and the rights of regular, normal citizens.  Sherlock Homeless! Like I said, an idealized form of what I think I would like, but will never have.

One of the things I like about Child’s writing is that he is linear and logical.  He breaks things down scene by scene, eliminates the extraneous and moves forward.  And in so doing he moves the reader forward as well.  There isn’t a lot of spiral thinking or turning back pages to figure out or place a character in the advancing action. For Child a story is a military operation.  Which of course works very well for Jack Reacher, a very smart and rugged retired military cop. Really, the military is all Reacher has known, so Lee Child achieves the perfect blend of storyline and character/scene development.

But ‘Personal’ is a little different from the normal Jack Reacher novel, mainly because it is personal.  Reacher has a past, manifest in Dominique Kohl who was killed under Reacher’s command. It was a long time ago, but we all have a past and we know how that plays with and influences our present.  And Reacher is not immune to his own hubris. He carries the same fears we all do, only manages them a little better.

Lee Child always has a sense of humour.  Sometimes witty, sometimes sardonic, he never fails to make me grin, often.  He observes people in real life situations, then he weaves that into his story in simple ways, funny ways.  Bags made by one-eyed virgins in Guatemala, printed with crushed carrot dye – echoing the British focus on environmental products.  ‘Personal’ is, personally, a hoot.


Excerpts from the novel:

TRANSITORY – Nothing to do with us.  I was six thousand miles away in California, with a girl I met on a bus.  She wanted to be ab actor.  I didn’t.  So after forty-eight hours in LA she went one way and I went the other.

SEATTLE – Seattle was dry when I got out of the bus.  And warm.  And wired, in the sense that coffee was being consumed in prodigious quantities, which made it my kind of town, and in the sense that wifi hotspots and handheld devices were everywhere, which didn’t, and which made old-fashioned street corner pay phones hard to find.

MILITARY REALITY — …I listened to Koft for a good long time before I concluded that deep down the guy had an arrogant streak as wide as his head.  And as hard.  He wasn’t making the distinction.  Anyone who challenges you deserves to die is battlefield bullshit, not a way to live.

HUMILITY – “What don’t you need to do, Joe?”

Joe hadn’t answered because our silence was part of the ritual.  She had said, “You don’t need to solve all the world’s problems.  Only some of them.  There are enough o go around.”

REACHER’S WORLD — “It means you’re just a bit unconventional.  Which is the fourth of the four things you need to be.  All of which you are.  Which is all we’ll ever need.  Smart people, working hard, paying attention, thinking laterally.”

PRIVACY – “Except that every square inch of every public space has a camera on it.  Plus most private spaces, too.  London has a quarter of the whole world’s supply of closed-circuit cameras, all in one city.”

DISCIPLINE – We waited, like I had many times before.  Waiting was a big part of law enforcement, and a big part of army life generally.  Long slow periods of nothing much, with occasional bursts of something.  I was good at it….

HUMAN NATURE – “You know how it is.  Whatever your intentions, if you have the ability to do something, then you will do it, sooner or later.  The temptation is always there, and it can’t be resisted forever.”

– Derryll White once wrote books but now chooses to read and write about them.  When not reading he writes history for the web at www.basininstitute.org.

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