Night School (Jack Reacher #21), by Lee Child

Seven stars

In penning another of his ‘flashback’ Reacher novels, Child stirs the pot and leaves series fans divided. Taking the story back to 1997, Reacher still works for the Military Police and is summoned to attend some additional training in the form of an evening class. The course outline is vague and Reacher is sworn to secrecy, but he has nothing to lose, showing up to a classroom where representatives of the CIA and FBI await him. The class is a cover to instil inter-agency cooperation on a pending threat that has come out of Germany. A collection of Muslims from various countries, on both sides of the Shia-Shi’ite divide, are living together and talking about a vague event. An Iranian double agent is reporting that the group has been dealing with an American who is willing to sell them something for upwards of $100 million. With no idea as to who the mystery American might be or what he has to offer for such a large sum of money, Reacher is sent to the region to investigate. While liaising with German officials, Reacher learns that the American might be part of the US Military, based on some information that witnesses have garnered. However, others offer information that leads Reacher to wonder if this could be one of the handful of men who went AWOL over the past while. Working on this premise, Reacher uses his systematic thinking that has made him so popular in twenty previous novels and loosely connects the American and the larger plot to events from the Cold War era. The item worth so much could be something that might ignite a new and highly dangerous war, though Reacher is determined not to let that happen. As Reacher races to locate the perpetrator, he must flex his muscle and seduce yet another woman, keys to the recipe of any Jack Reacher thriller, while also ensuring that there is some degree of finality, knowing full well that the world does not end in 1997. What could Reacher have discovered in the years leading up to America’s supposed ‘War on Terror’? An interesting throwback novel that has some fans bemoaning the end of Lee Child’s success as a bestselling author while others applaud this ingenious spin.

It was just the other day that I was discussing the idea of long book series with a protagonist that has an ‘active’ (read: fighting) tendency. How long can a series go on before the body gives out and it becomes somewhat unbelievable. Scot Harvath and Mitch Rapp seem to be able to do it, though the likes of Jason Bourne may have to hang up his shoes soon (this is likely because of an inferior author guiding him through adventures now). When it comes to Jack Reacher, the same might be said, though Lee Child has taken an interesting spin on things, by penning throwback or ‘flashback’ novels to help the series grow while not taxing the protagonist any further from where he ended during the last present-based novel. Many series fans don’t like this, as Reacher is best known for his renegade and vigilante behaviour, which is lost when he still dons the Army uniform. That said, he remains crisp and uses his analytical mind to decipher the most obscure clues. In this novel, the younger Reacher is his sarcastic self, surrounded by an always-new (and somewhat unique) collection of supporting characters. Pulling time-sensitive plots, Child is able to discuss Muslim terrorism in its kernel stage, before it was used by every thriller writer and flogged to the point of becoming less than intriguing. I will agree, somewhat, that the law-abiding Reacher, one serving his country, is not as exciting as the current incarnation of this character, though this novel way by no means a waste. As with any Reacher novel, there has to be that lovely lady that Reacher is able to seduce and a group of men who are begging to have the snot beaten out of them by the calm protagonist. Child is always happy to offer social commentary pulling on various aspects of America’s ongoing need to be involved in wars of all types and the apparent disregard for technological protection from one era to another. If I were to say anything else, I might spill the proverbial beans, so I will encourage readers to give this novel a change and look at the silver lining; Lee Child has not signed off on letting Tom Cruise ruin a handful of other Jack Reacher stories in the years to come. 

Kudos, Mr. Child for this refreshing look at the early Jack Reacher, before the chip on his shoulder became the cross he had to bear.