The Midnight Line by Lee Child
Jack Reacher is back on Rebel Voice, and this time he’s caught up in a strange mystery that involves a disappeared soldier, a launderette and a pawn-shop ring. Trust Reacher to find the most troublesome part of the USA. The following review contains some spoilers.
As Reacher is walking through a small town in the Mid-west, he spies a West Point graduation ring in the window of a pawn shop. Now most people would take a quick peek and move on. But ole Jack is a graduate of that US military academy and has nothing better to do with his time than wonder why the ring is there. If he had a job, then he wouldn’t be concerning himself with rings (jewelry and Olympics excepted). But Jack is a vagrant, a hobo, a road tramp who drifts from place to place looking for things to occupy himself. That’s why the ring attracts his intense interest.
If Jack Reacher wrote poetry, then travelling around the USA would be a great way to find topical material to write about. But as much as Rebel Voice admires nomadic lifestyles, it’s kinda difficult to believe that a former military man would be satisfied doing little else other than drift through life. His careers adviser at the welfare office should have a serious chat with him about this.
In any event, what would Lee Child write about if Reacher wasn’t a vagabond? With this in mind, Jack gets info on the ring and makes some mighty big assumptions which lead to an investigation into who owned it. This takes him to Rapid City, Wyoming, and a launderette run by a disreputable character called Arthur Scorpio, who may have a number of other nasty strings to his criminal bow. As Jack has both the time and skills, he resolves to cut as many of Scorpio’s strings as possible.
Into the picture steps Rapid City detective, Gloria Nakamura, also conducting an investigation into the elusive Scorpio. She has picked up word of Reacher’s imminent arrival in her city – he’s described as Bigfoot by a caller to Scorpio’s launderette and Gloria finds it easy to identify him when he eventually makes it that far. She also notices another person lurking around the launderette. He’s professional, well-kept and appears to be conducting surveillance. His name is Terry Bramall and he’s a former FBI agent now into Private Investigations. He is looking for a missing person who is the previous owner of the ring that Reacher purchased. It’s not long before Bramall’s path crosses with that of Reacher and they find they have common ground. They form an unlikely partnership.
Bramall was hired by Tiffany Jane Mackenzie, the married twin sister of missing West Point graduate, Serena Rose Sanderson. Mackenzie is desperate to find her sibling who went off the grid a number of months previous. Sanderson was apparently in a relationship with another soldier, and both of them had been seriously wounded whilst serving in Afghanistan. It is the treatment of their injuries that forms the basis of this story-line, in concert with Reacher’s own psychological problems.
When soldiers are injured in war, they often receive inadequate care afterwards. This applies to both physical and psychological problems. In the case of physical injuries, which applies to both Sanderson and her lover, the patients are given opiates to kill the pain. They quickly become addicted.
Opiate addiction is a serious problem in the United States. OxyContin, for example, is known as hillbilly heroin. There are many other brands which act in the same way. They are transformed into morphine when ingested and can be incredibly habit-forming. Unfortunately, such palliative care masks the problem and doesn’t lead to a long-term solution. But then, governments often don’t care abut the long-term, unless it’s their bank accounts we’re talking about.
Sanderson is hopelessly addicted to pain-killers and can’t get a regular supply of them. Her boyfriend, Sy Porterfield, had the same problem. As he tried to discover why the army was no longer able to provide them with their recommended drugs, he accidentally uncovered a pilfering operation run by a crooked officer that sold military drugs to civilian drug-dealers. That landed him in big trouble on a number of fronts. He ended up deader than a Trump joke at a feminist convention.
Reacher and Bramall are determined to both help Sanderson, with the aid of her sister, as well as expose the drug running operation. Scorpio, of course, is at the heart of the entire nasty business. But will Jack be able to save the day, get rid of the bad guys, but also keep Sanderson supplied with her fix for the foreseeable future as she weans herself off them? Hmm… let’s think about that for a second…
Midnight Line is a fairly typical Reacher tale. It’s not bad if a tad far-fetched. The plot-lines are thin in places but well told. Some of Reacher’s presumptions, based on what passes for logic in his brain, are questionable. To make matters worse, Bramall and Mackenzie also engage in the same practice, of reasoning in an internal monologue, that we are privy to. Child appeared to have been unable to deliver different voices and thought patterns for the different characters. It weakens the style associated with Reacher when others are portrayed using it also.
The settings are good, as always. Child can relate a good story and the character list is interesting. The characters themselves are consistent if sometimes unbelievable. But Reacher is his old self and that’s not entirely a bad thing. He has a great line when he threatens Scorpio in his business premises.
Reacher: What have you got in your pockets?
Reacher: You need to take it all out. I’m going to put you in the tumble dryer.
Much later, when Reacher sorts out the drugs problem and ensures that Sanderson is going to be OK, he returns to confront the wily Scorpio. It just so happens that Nakamura has been tied up by the criminal and imprisoned in a back office of the launderette. She hears Reacher enter, hears some words exchanged between the two and then ‘grunts and gasps, and the scrape of heels on the floor. And then the slow roar of a tumble dryer, growling and droning, around and around, with a heavy load, thumping and bouncing‘. You gotta love Jack’s style.
Midnight Line will satisfy the literary requirements of all Jack Reacher fans. It’s an interesting story-line and one which is relevant to the lives of millions across the world. Opiate addiction is very real and extremely destructive. Pharmaceutical corporations make billions exploiting the pain of the people. Many doctors and politicians assist in this. Child made a good call taking on the subject.
Sult scale rating: 7 out of 10. Not the best of the Jack Reacher thrillers but not the worst either. It’s a solid piece of writing and will sit well on the bookshelves of avid Reacher fans as well as those with little more than a passing interest in one of the most lauded characters in modern fiction. Rebel Voice still prefers Kung Fu though.
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