By Ken Marantz / Japan News Staff WriterNight School
By Lee Child
Bantam Press, 394pp
If you hear the name Jack Reacher and your first reaction is to picture Tom Cruise, you need to get to a bookstore or a library double time, because Hollywood has seriously misled you, and you obviously haven’t read the books.
And if you’ve never heard of Jack Reacher and you’re a fan of mysteries or action thrillers, you should take the same action, because you’re going to want to know this hulky hero of recent literature.
British-born author Lee Child puts his character back into a dire good-vs-evil situation in “Night School,” his 21st Jack Reacher novel in a career that started in 1997 — that’s just over one book per year — after he was fired in a corporate restructuring at Granada TV in Manchester.
In Child’s previous novels, Reacher had already left the U.S. armed services as a major who had commanded a special unit of the military police. Choosing to live as a drifter with no fixed address, no driver’s license, no credit card and no obligations, he gets on and off interstate buses on a whim, and by sheer coincidence, gets mixed up in the darnedest predicaments in which he ends up foiling the foulest of villains.
“Night School” stands apart from most of the books in the series in that it serves as a “Rogue One”-like prequel, taking us back to when Reacher was still in the army. It was around the breakup of the Soviet Union, when enemies were changing, U.S. troops were downsized and surplus equipment was mothballed, sometimes getting lost without a trace in the system.
Regardless of the timeline, among the first things you discover about Reacher is that he is big. Heavyweight boxer or NFL linebacker big — and thus the ridiculous casting of Cruise to play him. Think more along the lines of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. While blessed with brains as well as brawn, Reacher uses the latter often enough to get out of his share of predicaments. As Child writes in “Night School”: “Reacher was a good street fighter. Mostly because he enjoyed it.”
Without going into the significance of the school in the title, Reacher eventually finds himself in Hamburg, Germany. A mole in a sleeper Islamic terrorist cell has overheard a conversation about an American citing a price of $100 million. Who is the American, and what is he selling at such an exorbitant price?
Ah, that’s for Reacher and his CIA and FBI colleagues to discover in their race against time. The twisting, riveting plot includes an AWOL soldier, a dead prostitute, a forger, a competent but undermined local police chief and a German nationalist cult that inadvertently gets involved. And showing that our James Bond-cum-Rambo can be human, there’s a woman. As usual, there are threats as Reacher closes in on his prey, but he has developed the street smarts for survival.
“Reacher didn’t like to stay in the same place twice. A habit. Unnecessary, some said. He said he was 35 years old and still alive. Had to mean something.”
If you’re already a Jack Reacher fan, “Night School” offers an interesting lesson in our hero’s early years. For the newcomers, welcome to the class. The only test will be trying to put the book down.
Where to Read
In secure undisclosed locations, but never the same place twice