Nothing to Lose by Lee Child

Hope and Despair Lee? Hope and Despair?

The West is riddled with little towns and the remnants of other one-time settlements and they often have interesting names. Many of them point to historical or geographical facets of the community that someone, sometime thought were important. Cripple Creek for example, was said to be named by a rancher whose calf was crippled by an ill-timed jump over a creek as a result of an accidentally discharged six shooter. Bombay Beach was going to lure vacationers from the French Riviera to the edge of the Salton Sea until the salt-in-the-sea combined with torrential rainfall in the 70s overtook man’s ambitions. Given the long, long list of colorful place names that Lee Child could have used to place his latest Jack Reacher thriller in, he settles on the imaginary neighbors Hope and Despair. [CLICHE ALERT…CLICHE ALERT…CLICHE ALERT]

image Reacher and his toothbrush are traversing the country from Maine to San Diego when his hitchhiked ride drops him on the road to a company town named Despair. He makes note of an important marker found where city or county lines meet, the change in the roadway. The road from Hope is smooth, well built, and recently blacktopped. At the expansion joint where Hope relinquishes the thoroughfare, the road becomes pitted, worn out and obviously constructed at minimal expense. Upon walking into town, Jack notices immediately that this was not a town with a huge tourist draw. Sitting in the only cafe he can find, Reacher is pointedly ignored by the waitress until the welcoming committee notices him. As they surround him, not to give him the key to the city but to tell him to leave, their fate is sealed. Those of us who know Jack Reacher know that the fastest way to broken bones and contusions is to tell him to do something without an adequate explanation.

The rest of this fast paced thriller follows Jack as he seeks to discover the reasons why people are so adamant about keeping non-locals out. Utilizing a temporary romance in next door Hope, Reacher learns more than he wants to know about the recycling plant that is the center of life in Despair. In the course of his nosing around we are exposed to Reacher’s/Child’s feelings toward the Iraq war as the snooping intertwines depleted uranium, army deserters, veterans brain injuries, the end-times, and preacher/town hoss. These positions might counter your own but, if you can put that aside, this is a typically good Lee Child effort. Reacher is himself throughout, able to take on and defeat multiple assailants, strangely attractive to women, and tack sharp in his detective skills. Once you are drawn into the story, you won’t stop until you cross the 400 page mark.

I’m hoping that the cliches were simply the result of Child wanting to make his anti-war stand through his hero Jack Reacher and that the next book will return to the generally smart character and fantastic pacing. If you haven’t met Jack yet, I would recommend starting with either Bad Luck and Trouble or The Hard Way to get a better feel for his personae before you draw any conclusions from this effort alone.

Cue Anti-Flag – Depleted Uranium is a War Crime

7 thoughts on “Nothing to Lose by Lee Child”

  1. I really enjoy the Reacher novels and I am about 3/4 of the way through this latest one. But I am enjoying it the least of all the others. A big reason is for Child’s simplistic ‘black and white’ assessment of the war in Iraq.

    He pontificates a bit too much and has contrived situations that don’t exist (secret tank destruction, artillery bombardments of Iranian ‘civilians’ as well as the supposed yearning that the troops have for disengagement.) Why would Reacher think that Iraq 1 is more ‘honorable’ an engagement than Iraq 2? Is it because of Child’s European roots?

    (I think that I should be offended by his equally simplistic take on Evangelicals but I am afraid there is more truth to his portrayal here.)

    Some author’s can pull off the politicizing of their work. John D. MacDonald was a master. But Child’s attempt here is too transparent. I hope he returns to form with his next effort as well.

  2. You’re right about the contrived situations. Another area that Child seemed to lose interest was the reason for the cultic behavior of the townspeople. Every single one of them is out in the scrub forming a flying wedge against the oncoming traffic. Don’t we want to know why? Does it have something to do with the little storefront church? Did Reacher check to see if they all had black Nike’s on and just forgot to tell us?

    Do you read Crais? That’s next on my summer downtime reading list.

  3. You are right on the money. That whole human wedge thing – it seemed so silly. I didn’t bring it up because I thought I had already been maybe a little too critical.

    I like Crais very much, especially his extra-Cole books. (Although I like those as well).

    How about Dennis Lehane?,,

  4. I’ve only read one book by Connelly – the one that Eastwood made into a movie, but I didn’t see the movie. I’ve been picking up Coben’s books in the bookstore lately but haven’t taken the plunge. I only read Child because it was one of a very few selections in gift shop of the hotel I was staying in. A very pleasant surprise.

    I am leery of books that run to much more than 400 pages. I really can’t stand overly descriptive writing. The classic offender (IMHO) was the old Taylor Caldwell. One page to describe the weave in the drawing room’s drapes. That’s why I love MacDonald and Leonard and (the early) Robert Parker.

    Mystic River and Shelter Island are very good books but the series Lehane did (only about 6 books) with Kenzie and Gennaro are my favorites. I don’t know which one is first but I would read them in order – the personal relationships develop as they go along.

    Since you mentioned Crais I picked up the “Last Detective”. I got a little tired of Cole and Pike – too much like Spencer and Hawk – you no that no one can take ’em. But I picked up an enjoyed the last one about Pike (jeesh, I forget the title) and liked it a lot. I see he has become more vulnerable.

    With that I am going to check out your post on Pike. BTW – I did really like “Nothing to Lose”. Too over the top.

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