Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Blue Moon

Blue Moon
by Lee Child
Recommended Ages: 15+

They describe him as a big, ugly, old guy – nothing like the actor who plays him in the movies – when Jack Reacher randomly walks into a city divided down the middle between Ukrainian and Albanian gangsters' spheres of activity. It's almost, but not quite, a complete coincidence that he gets off a coast-to-coast bus there, his instincts as a former Army MP triggered by a hunch that a young tough is going to mug a frail older man. He foils the robbery, but the old man does get bruised, so Reacher takes him under his wing and helps him the rest of the way home. Aaron Shevick has problems, though. He and his wife have sold or hawked everything they have, and now they're in debt to some bad people, all for a cause that means more to them than everything else put together. The very roof over their heads belongs to the bank, which only lets them stay there because they're old.

Now their situation has become even more complicated because the rival gangs have exchanged the first shots in a slow, secret war, and Reacher has become involved in a way from which he can't back down. The Shevicks' hopes depend on a hard man who has nothing to tie him down but his sense of right and wrong – which, by the way, does not deter him from putting out bad guys like cigarette butts. At the center of the spiral of corruption on one side of the city center, there is a man who defrauded the Shevick family out of the money they desperately need. Time is running out for them. And now, with Reacher on the case, that means time is running out for organized crime on both sides of the gang turf boundary.

Reacher collects a small group of allies to help him achieve the seemingly impossible – destroying not one, but two organized crime gangs that have their boot on a city's throat. Part of his success seems to be based on absurd luck, part of it on his professional knowledge of the way criminal minds work, and part of it on what he describes as the Army way – hard work, built on perfect intelligence, tactics and weapons – along with the amazingly simple principle that most outfits aren't prepared for an enemy who does something completely insane. Reacher, a cute waitress, two musicians and an ex-Marine do a bunch of insane stuff, wading hip-deep through deceased crooks just to get to one guy who owes a sweet older couple.

It's brutal, violent, fast-paced, steering tightly along the razor edge of the preposterous, with a glossy sheen of sex and a satisfying sense of justice being meted out in a systemically unjust world – a feeling complicated, just a bit, by the coldbloodedness of some of the murders and the improbability of some of the others. Lee Child's writing seems to be calibrated to stay out of the way, to keep the picture morally and emotionally uncluttered, except for the highly charged atmosphere of suspense and the explosions of swift, deadly violence. You almost, at times, pity the bad guys, who are so helpless to stop what's coming for them in spite of the fact that they have pretty good intelligence, lots of weapons and some dangerously effective tactics themselves. They're smarter than you'd expect – smart enough to make the unnamed city where the Shevicks live a seemingly inescapable trap for ordinary people who have no chance against the Eastern European gangs – but, naturally, no match for the never-beaten-yet Reacher.

Reacher knows his luck will run out someday, but not today. And so, for that much longer, his near invulnerability and unstoppable success (matched only by his loneliness and lack of a place to belong) make him a surprisingly satisfying hero once again. This is the 24th of currently 25 Jack Reacher novels by Lee Child, who has also published a collection of shorter Reacher stories titled No Middle Name. Book 25, co-authored with Lee's brother Andrew Child (who also writes under the pseudonym Andrew Grant), is titled The Sentinel and is scheduled to be released in October 2020.

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