Surprise tops nasty surprise when former MP Jack Reacher stalks a nemesis from the past.
Child (Without Fail, 2002) opens Reacher’s seventh case with an apparent ambush. As college student Richard Beck heads home, two men in a pickup cut off his limo, pull him out, and lob a grenade into the car, killing Beck’s bodyguards. Reacher, standing nearby, jumps into the fray, blows away the would-be abductors as well as a third man rushing onto the scene, who turns out to have been a plainclothes cop. The law never forgives cop killers, Reacher tells Beck, so off they flee to the student’s Maine family mansion. Then comes surprise #1: the ambush was meticulously staged by federal agents who want to plant Reacher inside the Beck fortress, where they want Reacher to rescue another agent who went missing in the same place a few weeks earlier. They also suspect that Beck’s father, a rug dealer, traffics in clandestine matters that tie him to Francis Xavier Quinn, who should have died ten years previously, when Reacher pushed him from a cliff. Quinn’s background ensues, becoming—for once!—a subplot that ratchets up suspense. Meanwhile, Reacher noses about the Beck’s latter-day Eagle’s Nest, whose depraved and degraded inhabitants have a Hitchcock flavor. Reacher also keeps dodging the estate’s security system in order to meet and make love to his operative. Back in Maine, the maid turns out to be an agent the feds know nothing of, Reacher learns (surprise #20, at least) what the Becks are up to, and he closes in on Quinn. The tension leading to Reacher and Quinn’s reunion could easily sustain a simple, two-man, High Noon–style face-off, but Child lays on and drags out the violence, the one time his otherwise expertly judged work goes over the top.
Wily plotting, swift pacing, mordant wit: Child is one skillful writer.