Comfort Food For Action Readers … PERSUADER by Lee Child

PERSUADER is the second Jack Reacher book in a row that I’ve decided is my favorite.

Earlier this year I began reading Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels from the beginning, starting with THE KILLING FLOOR. I immediately enjoyed Jack Reacher’s voice, and his combination of military badass and confident crime solver blended perfectly with Child’s precise writing style. These are fun books that don’t take long to read, led by a protagonist who’s determined to punish the bad guys, whether that’s inside or outside (usually outside) the confines of the law.

As Reacher says in PERSUADER, “I don’t really care about the little guy. I just hate the big guy. I hate big smug people who think they can get away with things.”

In this book, the big smug person Reacher is trying to get to is Quinn, a man Reacher believed he had killed years ago back in his days as a military policeman. But then he runs into Quinn in the street, and soon finds himself wrapped up in a DEA investigation into Quinn and his partner Beck.

Child returns to Reacher’s first-person POV here, which I prefer to the third person perspective he has used in the last handful of books, and the tension of Reacher being undercover gives this book a very different feel, as he tries to work out the mystery while all the while wondering how close the bad guys are to discovering his true purpose.

As Reacher’s investigation continues, Child flashes back to Reacher’s introduction to Quinn years earlier, and through the course of those flashbacks we come to see why Reacher is so determined to see Quinn dead, even as his cover story begins to weaken.

It’s another strong installment by Child. By the eighth book in the series, the Jack Reacher books hit a lot of familiar beats. Almost as soon as the pretty, intelligent woman steps onto the scene you know it won’t be long before she’s sleeping with Reacher. As soon as we meet Paulie, the big, dumb enforcer for the bad guys, we know Reacher will eventually have to fight that behemoth. These books have become in some ways like a comfort food for anyone seeking a cleverly-crafted action mystery, and once again, Child hasn’t disappointed.

Back to Form … WITHOUT FAIL by Lee Child

ECHO BURNING was my least favorite Jack Reacher novel to date, so it was nice to see Lee Child return to form with WITHOUT FAIL, the sixth book in the Jack Reacher series.

Whereas ECHO BURNING felt as though it dealt with relatively low stakes as Reacher looked to help a wife who may or may not have been beaten by her husband, WITHOUT FAIL returns Reacher its typical tension levels as Reacher seeks to help the Secret Service protect the vice president from an assassin who seems intent on tormenting the Secret Service before taking his shot at the VP.

Reacher is brought into the mystery when his dead brother’s ex-girlfriend, M.E. Froelich, now the head of the vice president’s protection detail, recalls a conversation with Reacher’s brother and tells Reacher, “I want you to kill the vice president of the United States.”

Reacher’s violent side really only displays itself very early and very late in the book, but the rest of the story focuses on Reacher’s detective skills and his attempts to unravel the mystery, which is honestly just as fun as watching Reacher take down the bad guys with fists or firearms. Sure, there are some details you really need to overlook to enjoy the story, but this was an enjoyable thriller with a mystery that took a lot of twists and turns before leading to its violent, vengeful conclusion.

Froelich’s relationship with Reacher provides an interesting subplot, and I enjoyed the callback to Jack’s brother from the first novel, which reminds us a bit of Reacher’s history and the fact that his stories and his character build upon themselves — this is a series with a memory for what came before.

 

A Perfect Balancing Act … TRAITOR’S BLADE by Sebastien de Castell

Falcio Val Mond may live in a corrupt world, but that doesn’t mean his story can’t be a whole hell of a lot of fun.

With TRAITOR’S BLADE, the first book in Sebastien De Castell’s Greatcoat Quartet, Castell pulls the impressive balancing act of offering the quick wit, camaraderie and joy of swordplay and action along with meaningful characterizations and an unflinching look at a fantasy world where the ruling class can be petty and cruel and no one — men, women or children — are truly safe from the horrors of that cruelty.

Falcio is the former leader of a disgraced group of swordsmen called the Greatcoats, an elite force serving the king and, more importantly, the king’s laws, standing up for the rights of the little guy against the money and power of the nobles. But when the story begins, the king is dead, and based upon his command, Falcio and the Greatcoats stepped aside when the nobles came to overthrow him, earning them condemnation from the very people they once served.

Falcio and his two friends — evoking memories of Alexander Dumas’s THE THREE MUSKETEERS — have been reduced to taking jobs as common bodyguards while seeking the king’s chariots (if you don’t know what that means, don’t worry — neither do they). It’s a job that winds up pulling them back into a clash with the noble class and protecting a young girl who has been marked for death.

The whole book is something of a balancing act, as De Castell mingles the present plot with frequent flashbacks, a technique that usually backfires as either the past or present tends to overshadow the other. But in TRAITOR’S BLADE, the flashbacks serve to illuminate the characters and the world they live in, and are interesting enough that they don’t take away from the story’s momentum.

For the most part, the flashbacks serve to demonstrate how vile the noble class is and why Falcio is so determined to fight them. Even as Falcio trades barbs and battles villains, we learn from the flashbacks that he wasn’t always the confident swordsman we know. We see the death of his wife, his period of madness afterwards and see how he first met the king and began the Greatcoats. Somehow, De Castell blends heroics, humor and death, and the moments of failure and hopelessness are just as well-written as the moments in which Falcio emerges triumphant. The darkest parts are as grim as anything you can find in fantasy, but De Castell balances that darkness with the humor and charisma of Falcio and his friends.

Just as good are some of the underlying themes. The Greatcoats are committed to their honor, but they are despised everywhere they go. When recognized, they are considered the least honorable people in every room they enter, a daily irony that weighs on them all.

The last Fey horse proves a terrifying addition late in the story, demonstrating the sheer madness of Falcio’s nemesis and showing the reader just how much of this world’s beauty has already been lost, regardless of the Greatcoats’ efforts.

The story takes place in a world in which single-shot firearms exist, indicating that while the Greatcoats and their rapiers still have a place in this world, but that whatever new world they hope to create, it will be a world in which their swordsmanship is no longer as valuable as it once was — once men develop guns capable of multiple shots without reloading. No matter what happens, the story’s protagonists all have an expiration date. The only thing that remains to be seen is whether they’ll live long enough to realize that their swords are about to become outdated.

TRAITOR’S BLADE is exactly the type of fantasy book I enjoy — a witty, fast-action story with substance behind the veneer. It’s a balancing act that De Castell pulled off perfectly.