The Enemy by Lee Child

Jack Reacher doesn’t take prisoners. He doesn’t negotiate, and he doesn’t follow orders very well either. Reacher is a military cop and when his new CO starts covering up a series of murders that take place in and around his Army base he goes AWOL in order to track down the source of the crimes.

Child has created a character that has a strong sense of integrity and justice combined with an almost sociopathic inability to show fear in the face of danger. He faces down angry pimps, corrupt CO’s, the secretary of defense and a phalanx of tanks in pursuit of bringing three men to justice. Reacher’s mother is dying in Paris, his CO is looking for him and his prime suspects are generals and colonels who could have him blacklisted just for annoying them. With all that he’s not afraid to wade right into the middle.

With all of that understood it would be easy to expect his stories to be the kind of Hollywood action cuts that jump from chase scene to fight to chase scene. While those elements exist in the story that is not all it is about. Jack Reacher has to do the hard stuff too – like figuring out what happened and reading lists and comparing stats and examining evidence. In fact most of the book is the hard stuff. Which would be boring if it were not written in the right way.

Child writes in short concise sentences that almost sound choppy and succinct but give the story a voice that feels it fits Jack Reacher’s personality and propels the story along at great speed. Some writers (i.e. Dan Brown) like to make you think things are happening by using cliff-hangar endings every two pages and lots of chapter breaks. Some writers (i.e. Robert Jordan) don’t bother making you think things are happening. Lee Child is of the more readable type that depends on the quality of his writing to make the story move along. I’m not saying he’s going to win a Pullitzer or the Booker award – it’s not that kind of book – but the prose is top-notch and does exactly what it’s supposed to do: tell a story and keep it exciting.

There is a downside, Jack Reacher makes some leaps of logic that Sherlock Holmes would have scratched his head over – and is sometimes proved wrong, thought not often. He’s big and tough and mean and a Mary Sue character if there ever was one. Who doesn’t want to be a six foot four tough as nails military cop who does whatever he wants and beats up all the bad guys? I’m curious to know what female readers think of the characters.

But it doesn’t really matter. He gets the job done and it’s exciting. Descriptions are given in a dry sardonic voice and Child, writing as Reacher, makes the story jump from action to tension to emotional trauma almost seamlessly.

This is the first mystery book I have read in a long time that has prompted me to buy another book by the same author.

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2 thoughts on “The Enemy by Lee Child”

  1. Love Lee Child. And for all the reasons you mentioned. Great, effective writing for what it is intended to be.

    I think the hang up for me (still doesn’t get in the way of me reading all of his books) is the ‘yeah right’ conclusions that Reacher comes up with, and they are present in all of Child’s books. Everything hinges on Reacher pulling a password, address, or phone number out of thin air, and he does it. It always seems too much of a stretch.

    But there are times when I wish I was Reacher, takin’ down the bad guys. Good stuff.

    1. I’ve tried to write mystery stories in the past and this is the always the hangup that I get. It’s really hard to build enough reliable clues into a story that it feels natural but also surprising when the protagonist figures everything out. It’s always a cheat when they guess things that happen to be right or the bad guy does the monologue to explain why, how, and when.

      With Child it felt much less egregious than with other writers.

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