Lee Child’s series of Jack Reacher novels has been a favorite of mine since I first cracked open the pages of Killing Floor, the first Reacher novel, published in 1998. Jack Reacher is an ex-military man, who after spending years as an MP, decides he just want to roam the country on his own free will. And so he does, carrying nothing but an ATM card, the clothes on his back, and a toothbrush. As he travels around the country, he becomes a sort of one man A-Team, working to eliminate an evil threat either to him or someone in distress. While the novels aren’t great literature, they are the type of book you crack open to read in the evening and find yourself up past midnight, promising you’ll put it down after just one more chapter.
So it was with great anticipation that I opened the pages of Nothing to Lose, Lee Child’s most recent Jack Reacher novel. The book opens with Reacher leaving the town of Hope and crossing into the neighboring town of Despair. Once he reaches Despair, he finds himself an unwanted trespasser, guilty of vagrancy. After tangling with the locals, Reacher is tossed in jail and then expelled from town, told never to come back again. But Reacher doesn’t like to be told what to do, so he decides to find out what secrets are being held in the dirty, depressing town.
Reacher soon finds out that Despair is a “company” town, where all of its citizens work for Thurman, the owner of the company (and its law enforcement and government), in his metal recycling plant. There are also women who keep showing up in Hope looking for men who appear to be disappearing in Despair. Reacher investigates and discovers the operations of the recycling plant don’t appear to be above board, and Reacher wants to understand what hold Thurman has on his people. With the help of the police officer Vaughn, from the town of Hope, Reacher aims to get to the bottom of the mysteries of Despair.
If only Jack Reacher could get to the bottom of what happened to Lee Child here. Instead of a tight, action filled novel in which the conflict is clearly defined, Child has written a lazily plotted novel in which Jack Reacher simply keeps poking around into someone else’s business, meeting minimal resistance from a poorly sketched bad guy that barely qualifies as a villain.
It is clear that Lee Child wishes the novel to be a commentary on George Bush, Evangelical Christians, war profiteers, and the Iraq War. Even if you agree with him completely in your dislike for these items (which I do), the preaching is simply annoying and makes it all the more clear that there is next to no suspense in the book. Had Child been more subtle in his commentary and designed a tighter story around it, he might have been able to get away with it. Instead, we get a rambling book that feels drained of any of the energy that makes a good action thriller.
As someone who feels like he made a secret discovery years ago when I read Child’s first novel, I have to say that I plowed through the book hoping for the spark somewhere near the end that would push it back into the familiar Child winning formula. That never came.
Nothing to Lose is a rare misfire for Lee Child and Jack Reacher. I am hopeful that Child has allowed himself to get his political views off his chest and that his next novel, Gone Tomorrow, is a return to form.