No Middle Name by Lee Child (Crime/Adventure Story Collection, 2017).
Lee Child’s extremely successful and prolific series of books about the tough, ruthless yet honorable (at least on his own particular terms) Jack Reacher are mostly novels. Very successful novels–exciting, uncompromising and damned cool. It’s made him a #1 Bestseller several times over. But Reacher (nobody usually calls him ‘Jack,’ not even the people he protects or rescues from great peril) has also had a number of shorter (but by no means less interesting) adventures. This book collects 11 previously published Reacher stories, with the bonus of a single brand-new one.
The stories relate incidents over the full range of his life to date, but they’re not presented in chronological order (nor even in order of when they were first published). They bounce around from his time growing up with a stalwart marine father, whose constant reassignments left Reacher with the taste for constant movement that he later adopts as a conscious lifestyle in his adult life. Thus every story to carries him into a new environment, all over the country and the world.
Other tales detail his work as an army MP with connections to the murky worlds of military intelligence and national security, followed by his inerrant wanders after leaving the service. Rough, no-holds-barred action routinely develops–often involving him against his will or better judgment in criminal and/or national security situations that he must somehow make the best of. But our big, tall and muscular hero (sometimes approaching anti-hero status, though always bound by his personal code of honor) always proves up to the challenges he faces.
Reacher on the whole (and in this book specifically) is a compelling and well-drawn character. Most of the stories here are told in 3rd person narrative. But I found “Everybody Talks,” a work told in first-person by a narrator of considerable interest (she’s a young police detective with particular skills of interrogation) of special interest. She interviews him when he ends up in hospital and in the process receives info to help kick off her career with a major bust.
Other stories I felt especially drawn into included “Small Wars”–with MP investigator Reacher looking into the murder of a bright young officer in the Georgia woods that may involve treasonable activities and his own older brother (a ranking official in the government’s spy/security operations). In “Deep Down,” he’s forced to endure Washington, DC itself in another assignment supposedly about the politics of weapons procurement and industrial espionage that blossoms into something more dangerous. While in “James Penny’s New Identity” Reacher’s brutal if necessary government assignment has been essentially completed as the story opens–yet it provides him an opportunity to act on his own, sometimes unconventional ideas of justice for a man he decides is worthy of a new start in life.
Small but never insignificant acts of kindness occur just often enough to add new dimensions to the Reacher character, without ever undermining the fact that he’s in every sense a classic darkly heroic figure.
Overall: This one’s a fine collection and is highly recommended.