Thursday, February 8, 2024

Night School

Night School
by Lee Child
Recommended Ages: 15+

This book takes us back to the mid-1990s, when Jack Reacher was still in the Army, before he became the wandering loner and brute-force fixer celebrated since 1997's Killing Floor. We find him still a Major in the Military Police, fresh off a top-secret mission for which he received a shiny medal, when he suddenly receives orders that at face value seem more like punishment than reward. He gets sent back to school.

The ruse that it's a school doesn't last long, however. Actually he and his fellow students – agents from the FBI and CIA who, likewise, just returned from a successful assignment – have been tasked with finding out who a double agent embedded in a terrorist sleeper cell was talking about when he said, "The American wants $100 million." No, the double agent doesn't know. But somewhere in Hamburg, Germany, somebody is fixing to sell something worth the purchase price of, say, a ranch in Argentina big enough to see from outer space. It's now a top national security priority to find out who that is and what he's selling, before a certain organization based in Yemen and/or Afghanistan gets hold of it.

The action moves from the Washington, D.C. area to Hamburg, where Reacher and Co.'s search for the American and whatever he's selling leads them across the German police's trail of a man who killed a high-priced prostitute. Now securing the cooperation of local law enforcement becomes a delicate dance across a landscape mined with such explosive issues as an American citizen's Sixth Amendment rights, the priority of catching a traitor who is potentially supplying terrorists with a weapon of mass destruction, and the U.S. government's desire to keep the presence of said WMD secret even while nobody knows exactly what it is.

Also crossing Reacher's path are just enough street toughs and neo-Fascist heavies to ensure he gets in a little bare-knuckled fighting and gun action. However, compared to other Reacher novels, this one leans more heavily into puzzle-solving and international intrigue, with a lot of suspense building up around how close the bad guys get to getting away with, um, what they're trying to get away with. The graphic violence you may have come to expect happens mostly out of the frame, while the threat to world security is what keeps the tension humming. That, and the many times the narrator omnisciently reminds us how close, at times, the good guys and the bad guys get to each other before they finally meet face to face. It's a cleverly constructed, intelligent, sexy and (still) quite violent mystery, starring a cool customer who takes big gambles and, thanks to his keen insights, frequently wins.

Lee Child is the author, or at least co-author, of now 29 "Jack Reacher" novels, of which this book is the 21st novel. The five latest installments have been credited to him "with Andrew Child," which is another name for his brother, spy thriller author Andrew Grant (not to be confused with the New Zealander author by the same name, also known as Grant Shanks). For the record, I haven't seen any of the Jack Reacher movies or TV episodes, starring either Tom Cruise or Alan Ritchson; though in my opinion, Ritchson looks more like the character I see in my head when I read these books.

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