Monday, August 31, 2020

Echo Burning

Echo Burning
by Lee Child
Recommended Ages: 14+

Everyone says a storm's coming toward Echo County, Texas, but Jack Reacher isn't buying it. Day after scorching day, the heat beats down on the arid, empty landscape. But both a storm and a burning really are in store for Echo, and make no mistake: Reacher will be right in the middle of the deadly violence at the heart of it.

It starts when an attractive but desperate woman named Carmen Greer picks Jack up only moments after he sticks his thumb out, trying to hitch a ride. The woman tells him that her husband, who beats her, is about to get out of prison; that she can't run, because they would never let her take her 6-year-old daughter Ellie with her; and that she needs someone like local hero Clay Allison – the "gentleman gunfighter" whose gravestone says he "never killed a man that did not need killing" – someone, she feels, exactly like Jack Reacher.

As hard a man as Reacher has already proven to be, straight-up murdering Sloop Greer doesn't sit right with him. He refuses to do it. Refuses to let Carmen seduce him. But agrees to hang around the ranch a little while, just to see what happens and do what comes naturally. He agrees to give her shooting lessons with a .22 caliber pistol. And he starts to believe her story. But then, Sloop returns home a day early. Next thing you know, while Jack is in the backseat of a state patrol cruiser being driven to the next county, Sloop gets shot in the head with his wife's .22 pistol.

Before his eyes, Carmen is taken away in handcuffs. He can't get into the jail to see her for a week – her arrest is on Sunday and visiting hours are on Saturday. He convinces a pro bono lawyer to represent her, but she refuses to talk to the lawyer. The district attorney, one of Sloop's best friends, seems to want to help the woman who apparently killed his buddy, but he has to let Reacher know that almost everything Carmen told him was a lie. Finally, Carmen actually confesses to all the lies and the murder of her husband.

With every piece of evidence coming out more damning than the last, it seems Reacher will have to admit that his judgment of Carmen's character was off – way off – and that his sense of people, honed during a 13-year career as a military cop, has deserted him. Which is, of course, exactly when he realizes for certain that Carmen is totally innocent, and that her husband's murder is part of a pattern involving a trio of contract killers, several yet-to-be-discovered dead bodies, and a sweet little girl whose life is in terrifying danger.

It's an ideal case for a sleuth whose knack for solving mysteries depends heavily on busting heads. Nobody busts them harder and with more precision than Jack Reacher. If you want to get him going, threaten his life. If you really want to get him going, threaten the life of a defenseless, innocent child. It's impressive when he shows mercy. It's terrifying when he doesn't. But now and then, it's good to have somebody terrifying on the side of the angels.

This is the fifth Jack Reacher novel by Lee Child, followed in series order by Without Fail. The 25th book, The Sentinel, is due for release in October 2020 and is co-authored by Lee's brother Andrew Child, a.k.a. Andrew Grant. There is also a book of Reacher stories titled No Middle Name, which I've been seeing in bookstores lately.

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