With the Tom Cruise movie coming out based on this book, I thought it would be worth reviewing for your reading pleasure. Or possible displeasure (just letting you know that up front).
Readers may already know how I feel about the Jack Reacher series of novels by Lee Child. Most of the time, the main character could walk away from everything and it would be a legitimate character choice. That means there isn’t much at stake for Jack Reacher. If there isn’t anything at stake, what’s going to keep the reader tethered to the story? There are a few things, of course.
First, Lee Child’s writing style works for me. He lays out large swathes of dialogue without feeling the need to qualify each line with deep thoughts from the character or a paragraph of descriptors about how the line of dialogue was supposed to be received. Good dialogue lets you know what’s going on without the fluff. That style also works in the favor of a mystery/thriller.
Second, the author knows how to pace a story. No scene ever feels too long or too short. Somehow, he nails it, despite the modern method of having 70 chapters in a book. There’s no fat, no un-necessary scenes. It’s trim and focused.
Finally, good characters and an intriguing mystery from the get-go round it all out.
How does Never Go Back fit in to this?
Never Go Back grounds the character, tying him instantly into the story. In effect, Reacher has his own stakes to play for and not someone else’s.
At the start, Reacher has come back to see the new CO of his former outfit, the 110 MP. But when he arrives, he finds she’s been arrested and he himself is under investigation for a different crime. In an effort to keep him there (or perhaps force him to run?) he is reinstated into the Army and assigned an attorney.
Reacher isn’t one to take circumstances as they are, so he immediately sets himself into motion, working the case against him and the CO. Unfortunately, the interim CO of the 110 seems intent on holding him back.
If this sound interesting, you would be right. Making things personal for Reacher goes a long way. Throwing several mysteries together to weigh down the character creates good drama.
Somewhere along the line, though, the novel turns into a slow-motion, cross-country chase, where the focus moves from solving anything to traveling from town to town, finding diners to eat at, and fighting local yokels. I’ve read five Reacher novels and I don’t recall any slowing down like this. It would be fine if the time was used on new or unexpected character building for Reacher, but it doesn’t go there. Eventually, it gets back on track, but I couldn’t help but think that the author lost his way about half way through and just managed to fight through to the end.
I still liked the novel, though, because Lee Child brings so many good things to the thriller category and Jack Reacher is character born to thrill. And in some ways it’s refreshing to read a thriller that doesn’t rely on a lot of violence. There is still violence, of course. This is a Jack Reacher novel. But violent action doesn’t carry the story here. It’s a double-edge sword, though, because a little extra thrill might have picked this up a little. Confusing, right? Watching the movie trailer, it looks like the screenwriters agreed and added in a little something.
It feels like this one is about delving into the makeup of a man who lives as a drifter and how and why they got that way. Unfortunately, by the end, I didn’t see any answers to that. It just ended where it started, as most of these novels do. It never pierced the surface.
It’s called Never Go Back, but I couldn’t figure out why.