Echo Burning by Lee Child (2001)
This is the fifth book in the very popular Jack Reacher series. Jack is a retired US Army Military Police Major who now walks around the US getting into trouble and helping people. He’s the modern take on The Incredible Hulk. Reacher is 6ft 5 inches tall and 250 pounds. The Hulk is bigger but has serious issues with his complexion. Yet they’re both much of a muchness.
In this episode, Reacher hitches a lift in Texas with a beautiful young woman, Carmine Greer, who tells him that her husband is getting out of jail soon and her life is in danger from him. She wants Reacher to kill her spouse, Sloop. Now Jack Reacher is no stranger to taking life but he refuses to be a contract killer. Yet he is intrigued by the woman and her young daughter, six and a half year old, Ellie.
Reacher agrees to go back to where the woman lives to assess the situation. He thinks he might be able to have a chat with her husband and straighten him out. But the ranch she lives on is owned by the Greer family and they’re a bad bunch. For one thing, they don’t like Mexicans, and Carmen is one. For another they made their money through crime and don’t take kindly to anyone getting in their business. Not that Jack cares one way or another.
As he settles in to the ranch as a hired hand, Reacher soon finds out just how bad the Greer family and their hired hands are. When they try to run him out of town, Jack is forced to demonstrate why that’s a really bad idea. Don’t make Jack angry. You wouldn’t like Jack when he’s angry.
In another thread, a team of assassins has just murdered a lawyer and dumped his body in the desert. They then make their way to the small township of Echo, the Greer home range, with purpose yet unknown to the reader. As their arrival is designed to coincide with that of Sloop Greer from prison, are they contracted to kill him and would that solve Carmen’s problems?
Reacher finds that the people of Echo are pretty much in the pocket of the Greer family. Although he’s hired as a ranch hand, Jack is made unwelcome by the family and other employees. It makes him all the more determined to help Carmen and Ellie, a courageous little girl he takes an immediate shine to. But Sloop’s just about due to arrive.
It all becomes very murky when, after Sloop’s arrival, the Greer’s call the cops on Reacher and have him forcibly removed from the ranch. Jack is powerless to protect Carmen and Ellie from Sloop’s anger as the state police transport him to the town of Echo, a very stretched-out municipality. It takes ages to get from one place to another such is the size of the region. Texans, always bigger with everything.
It’s during the journey to Echo that Reacher hears from the Staties that Sloop has been shot dead. They return to find Carmen the main suspect. Reacher doesn’t know what to think, but the cops arrest her, and little Ellie is left to fend for herself. Big Jack is getting mighty angry again. He finds a pro bono lawyer, Alice, to take Carmen’s case but it seems hopeless. The evidence is substantial and the Texas legal system is no friend to those without the means to hire the best. Carmen has little chance of even getting bail and it looks like Ellie is going into the foster-care program.
When Jack and Alice go out to the Greer ranch just a few days later, they discover that Ellie has been handed over to adoption services, who turn out not to be adoption services at all. The hit team have expanded their MO and abducted the girl in an effort to get the mother. Jack is still running up against a brick wall in his investigations but, between Alice and himself, they manage to get some kind of handle on what exactly is going on. It’s all about the past.
It’s well known that illegal immigrants from Mexico into the US were being hunted and killed for sport some years previously along the stretch that runs in the vicinity of Echo. Although, initially, the Border Patrol were the main suspects, no one was ever arrested for the multiple homicides. Jack begins to believe that Sloop was involved. The question is, who was with him and is this the reason why Sloop was murdered by someone other than Carmen? Cue mayhem.
This story is fairly good. The earlier episodes of the Reacher series are much better than the later ones. It appears as if the longer the series went on, the more exaggerated the plot -lines became. Reacher went from fighting two or three unarmed men, to beating up six or seven, some with weapons. It started to get ridiculous, even by the standards of modern fiction.
Echo Burning has plenty of twists. There is action aplenty. The pace is good and the characters strong. There are one or two flaws with the story. Carmen makes excuses for why she doesn’t just take her daughter and leave. The story’s flow hinges upon this shaky premise. But if the reader can ignore this then it’s none too shabby. Rebel Voice considers this to be a recommended read if you want to enter the world of Jack Reacher. It’s preferable to get into the early ones instead of what Lee Child is churning out today.
Sult scale rating: 7 out of 10. An early version of Reacher where we meet him before he became preternatural.