Only suckers get sucker punched … NOTHING TO LOSE by Lee Child

“A person less fortunate than yourself deserves the best you can give. Because of duty, and honor, and service. You understand those words? You should do your job right, and you should do it well, simply because you can, without looking for notice or reward.”

Before I ever read a book by Lee Child, I read a newspaper or magazine story about Child and his writing process. In the story, Child explained that he expected to write a novel each year — he would write the story for 3-4 months, spend another month or two going through revisions, then relax the remainder of the year.

He didn’t agonize over rewrites or writer’s block — he just moved forward, like a shark (or, as I know now, like Reacher himself), and he told the author he didn’t allow fear of failure to paralyze him. If he wrote a bad book, then he wrote it off as a bad year, and looked to do better the following year. As a writer who can get bogged down in his own fiction writing, perpetually embroiled in a cycle of rewrites, it was a freeing way of approaching the task of writing a novel.

Fortunately, up to this point, Child hasn’t written many clunkers. Some have been better than others — for example, I never really enjoyed ECHO BURNING — but for the most part, they have been of a level.

But in NOTHING TO LOSE, something was definitely missing. For one thing, the stakes were never very clear. The story begins in Rambo-light fashion, as Reacher is arrested for vagrancy in the town of Despair, Colorado, and is escorted out of town. Reacher could leave, but instead he keeps coming back, trying to figure out why everyone in the town wants him gone, what the billionaire who runs the town is hiding, why there is a military police outpost just outside of Despair and what happened to the body of a young man he found in the desert just outside of town.

Two young women come through the nearby town of Hope looking for their lost boyfriends or husbands, but they mostly stay away from Reacher, and I never got the impression Reacher was picking fights with Despair’s population on their behalf. Without a clear motivation, Reacher’s insistence on going to war with the town becomes vaguely uncomfortable, especially when he could leave at any time.

It would be one thing if the action was more exciting, but Reacher spends the majority of the book driving. Reacher’s repetitive trips back and forth between Hope and Despair grew dull, something I usually never have to worry about from a Jack Reacher novel.

Reacher isn’t even especially clever in this book. Usually the sheer novelty of how his mind works is enough to make the book entertaining, but this time the brilliance just wasn’t there. As he builds his relationship with Hope’s token hot blond deputy, both she and others mention that her husband isn’t doing much any more. Reacher’s guesses? Lung cancer and prison.

Not surprisingly, these are both wrong.

So overall, this isn’t a very good Reacher book, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have some great lines. At one point Reacher is accused of sucker punching one of his opponents, and Reacher replies, “Only suckers get sucker punched.” At several points in the book, whether knocking on a door late at night or trying to hitch a ride, Reacher reflects on the way his appearance sets people ill at ease: “Nine times out of ten only Mormon missionaries were less welcome than him.”

Even though this one was disappointing, I’m hopeful that 61 HOURS will get Reacher back on track. This year’s Reacher installment may not have been as good as I’d hoped, but he’s still welcome at my door.