The Sentinel (Jack Reacher #25), by Lee Child and Andrew Child (Grant)

Eight stars

Back for another Jack Reacher thriller, Lee Child brings a collaborator along to join the fun. Andrew Grant (Child, to keep the persona in line) does well to add his own flavouring to the piece, though some traditionalists have already begun to bemoan the change. I can see their point, but won’t be another stick in the mud for this one, which packed the punch I needed during a busy time of year!

As always, Jack Reacher finds himself in the middle of the scenario not entirely of his own making. Having decided that he ought to leave Nashville, Reacher convinces a young guy to give him a ride about eighty miles up the interstate to a sleepy Tennessee town. It seems quiet enough and is sure not to cause Reacher any issues. Little does Reacher know what awaits him.

Reacher meets Rusty Rutherford, who seems to be persona non grata amongst everyone in town. Having been the IT Manager for local services, Rutherford’s been made the scapegoat for the entire computer system being offline. It all relates to a ransomware attack, with hackers holding the only means to unlock all the computer’s data for a sizeable fee in a timely manner or risk having it erased. Rutherford tried to infiltrate the system and create an effective backup, but the ransomware has provisions for that and now millions will likely have to be spent to return things to normal. In an odd coincidence, Reacher rode into town with the very man, the insurance negotiator, who is tasked with trying to find a monetary solution to the mess.

While walking around town, Reacher notices that Rutherford is about to be targeted by a gang of apparent slick enforcers and comes to the man’s aid. This puts Reacher in a heap of trouble with local law enforcement, but his wily skills have him back on the street before long. Reacher learns a little more about Rutherford’s woes and how there’s a server that contains everything, including a a program Rutherford’s been working on that could have blocked the entire attack and a previously unknown backup that could be helpful.

Through a series of confidential conversations and secret double-crosses, Reacher is read in to a mission taking place that could have major impacts. It would seem the backup houses the name of a Russian spy who has been working nearby to infiltrate one of America’s most prized new digital systems, The Sentinel. A program that protects the integrity of US elections, the Sentinel could pose massive problems if it gets into the wrong hands, wreaking havoc on election registries and pushing the country into electoral chaos [and not of the faux claims of ‘rigged’ that disrupt the democratic transfer of power]!

As Reacher and Rutherford are joined by another key cog in the wheel, they must locate the errant server that has all the information and sell it before turning the perpetrator over to the authorities. However, as with anything that comes to the Russians, there’s always a catch and something that no one saw coming. If that were not enough, a local businessman has a plan all his own that could derail everything and leave a great deal of blood in his wake. Leave it to Reacher to find trouble with only his toothbrush in a back pocket!

Whenever I need something exciting and a little fun, I know I can find it in the hands of Lee Child and his Jack Reacher stories. While the series has made it to twenty-five books, I have never found them lose their momentum, though some will always be better than others. The introduction of the collaborating brothers here will, as I have already seen, rock the boat to the point that some become disheartened with the series. I liked the experiment, though found some small things that may not have been entirely to my liking, which I will tackle in a moment.

Jack Reacher remains a wonderful protagonist. His personality never changes and we don’t get any new backstory here, but he’s always a presence that cannot be missed. Reacher finds himself in a small town, minding his own business, when trouble seems to locate him like a lost puppy. He remains gritty and determined to help, something that Lee Child has fashioned him to be from the very start. However, I noticed that his admitted Luddite ways are inexplicably contrasted with an understanding of complex new Russian digital espionage. This is something that does not jive with a man who finds clamshell phones to be more technology than he can handle. Not that Reacher is a ‘basic’ man, but it seems above what series readers may have come to expect. Was he hiding it from years in the MPs and has somehow come to understand it through an odd osmosis?

The thing about Reacher novels is that there is usually an entirely new cast and crew of secondary characters, which makes things highly exciting and full of newness for the protagonist. This was no exception here, as a sleepy Tennessee town came to life, with personalities on all sides. Child (and Gross) do well to develop those townspeople, authorities, and foreign agents to keep the story flowing well and flavouring the narrative in ways that few would have come to expect. I enjoy it, as I learn a great deal from all the perspectives and must remain attentive to meet an entirely new set of fresh faces with each book. For the most part, they complement Reacher really well!

Being an active and involved reviewer, I try not to let the thoughts of others influence my reading, particularly when it comes to a series I have long enjoyed. That can sometimes be difficult, especially when I have a handful of people whose opinions matter great deal. However, I do enjoy going against the grain at times and speaking for myself, not allowing the current of opinion to push me in any one direction.

This book served the purpose that I needed it to, entertaining me fully and keeping me actively wanting to know what was going on. I thoroughly enjoyed the plot and the narrative worked well to keep me guessing and wanting to know even more. I loved the characters and felt that Child and Gross (I cannot bring myself to call them both ‘Child’, as Andrew Gross has made a name for himself independently) worked well together to keep the essence of the Reacher flavour in most aspects of the story. Strong chapters that always keep things moving proved to be the thing I needed to keep me pushing through, even as things are busy for me outside of the reading world.

I can see how some would have an issue, going so far as to say ‘this is not the Jack Reacher I know’. However, I fear that many people have failed to comprehend that Reacher, like us all, has to progress at some point. He’s had twenty-five full length adventures (and some short story side trips as well) and has surely ‘matured’ over that time. His nomadic ways have surely been offset with an understanding of the new things going on in the world. That said, I did feel that there was quite a leap (though subtle at the same time) in Reacher’s knowledge and comprehension, which could lead some to say that this is not the galoot they know so well. Was it Child and Gross trying to stay with the times and delve into election rigging? Could it be Gross’ collaborative influence that steered the story in new directions? I’m not sure and really don’t think it is worth my time dissecting it fully. I have said my bit and, like Reacher, I am ready to move on to a new adventure. But, I’ll be back, toothbrush in my back pocket, eager to see what else the series has for me!

Kudos, Messrs. Child and Grant, for an entertaining piece. I am eager to see what’s next and whether more collaborations are in store for series fans. At least those who have not turned their backs on Reacher because things ‘are not the same’.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: