No Middle Name

Book Review

No Middle Name   by Lee Child

I went and did it again. I read another Child book. This, despite the reservations that I had about the Jack Reacher series of which No Middle Name is one part – see Rebel Voice Book Review for Night School.

This is a short story collection covering much of Reacher’s entire life, although his appearance is fleeting in some. We get to meet the all-American hero as a young boy, then as a young teenager, then as a not-so-young teenager, and so on and so forth. The chronology is a tad haphazard but doesn’t detract from the overall effect. Jack Reacher is an interesting character.

However, such is the success of the series that Lee Child appears to have gotten carried away. If this trend continues, then Reacher will soon be changing in a phone-box before zipping across the US in spandex underpants and a cape saving shit. I’m serious.

No Middle Name has its good points. Child can tell a story and Reacher is a person who grabs the imagination. But I do feel that Lee Child is going to destroy his most successful creation by weaving ever more ridiculous fight sequences and story-lines.

Semi Spoiler Alert –

In No Middle Name, an adolescent Reacher saves his Marine officer father’s career whilst also saving his older brother’s reputation, and in the process breaks the bones of a teenage bully in Japan, with his father’s approval I might add. Jack Reacher is clearly a sociopathic delinquent. As a less immature teenager, he manages to play a major role on the capture of the Son of Sam serial killer in New York, whilst beating and helping to apprehend a member of an Italian mafia gang.

As an adult, he picks a fight with eight, I repeat eight, members of a dangerous biker gang. Even Clint Eastwood wouldn’t try to beat eight bikers, and that’s with the help of Clyde the Orangutan. Yet Jack Reacher relishes the challenge, and has no concerns about the knives or guns that the bikers might carry.

Lee Child either knows nothing about street-fighting or else he doesn’t care, and is therefore cynically exploiting the genre. He should read some John Sandford to better understand how to present such violence. It would be different if Reacher was so obviously a parody or if humour was applied, but Child does not go down that route. So it is that we are obliged to believe that a regular man is somehow capable of superhuman feats. It gets tiring after a while.

I usually enjoy Jack Reacher as a work of fiction. In the earlier books he is a much more believable creation. In No Middle Name Reacher is portrayed as being more nationalist than before. Perhaps that’s a sign of the times. It may be that Child is like the proverbial reformed smoker in that he is becoming more of a US patriot than the people of the US themselves (Child is English) and more stridently opposed to their enemies. Or perhaps he just sees a means of making a lot more money by massaging the national ego.

I don’t like where the author is taking Reacher. It’s a pity, as there’s plenty of scope for more adventure and greater developments in Jack’s personal life. There could be story-lines incorporating current affairs of today, for example. The potential is immense for such an engaging work of fiction. The jury is out, however, on whether I will read Child again.

Sult scale rating: 6 out of 10. Good writing and, for the most part, decent plot-lines, but Reacher is fast becoming absurd due to no fault of his own.