Without Fail by Lee Child (2002)
Jack Reacher has caught a lift to Atlantic City with a couple of ageing blues performers. Winter is a cold time of year in New Jersey and Reacher ponders the wisdom of leaving California, but he’s taken a shine to the old couple and hangs around to ensure that they get fully paid for their work in the city. It’s a decision that leads him into a web of deceit and death that could have serious repercussions for the US presidency.
M.E. Froelich is head of a section of the US Secret Service. She’s been tasked with providing security for the Vice-Presidential elect, Brook Armstrong, and recent events have led her to believe that her charge is under serious threat. Froelich was previously in a relationship, a serious one, with Reacher’s brother, Joe, who was murdered many years before. Joe spoke highly of Jack and so, when Froelich needs an independent assessment of the threat risk to the VP, she gets hold of big Jack. In fact, Froelich wants Jack to plan out the assassination of the VP, all the better for her to find any weaknesses in the security. Jack agrees.
Of course our hero will find a way through the security net, perhaps more than one, especially when you brings in his former military colleague, the indomitable Neagley. Together they don’t just penetrate the security around the VP, they destroy it entirely. Froelich is disheartened, but Jack advises that few others would be as efficient as both he and Neagley. Jack’s not the most modest sort but don’t tell him Rebel Voice said that in case he comes to Ireland looking for trouble and we have to kick his hobo ass all over the auld sod.
Eventually, Froelich reveals the extent of the threats that Armstrong has been receiving, the VP being completely unaware due to Secret Service protocols. It seems to Jack that there are two pretty serious and dangerous people out there with a very personal agenda. Froelich’s boss, Stuyvesant, is not so sure. Neither is FBI special agent Bannon, assigned to the investigative detail. They think that it’s more likely someone within the Secret Service is simply causing trouble due to jealousy over Froelich’s appointment. That opinion changes when two innocent men, with similar profiles to Brook Armstrong, are murdered as a demonstration of the assassin’s intent and capabilities. Chalk yet another one up for Jack.
The search intensifies as the VP continues to fulfil his duties thus putting himself in grave danger. Froelich is stressed about it all and becomes increasingly frustrated about her inability to locate and stop the killers. She also becomes intimate with Jack, reassuring him that she is not having sex with him to hold onto a memory of Joe. But Jack is not so sure. It doesn’t stop him from shagging her repeatedly though. To summarise, Jack Reacher is making a two backed creature with the ex-girlfriend of his dead brother. Hmm…
This all becomes all the more unfortunate when the assassins launch an attempt on Brook Armstrong. Froelich dies saving the VP. She takes his bullet á la Clint Eastwood in In The Line Of Fire. Jack is now angry because the ex-friend of his dead brother, whom he was having great sex with, and admired, is now also dead. Those responsible are in for one hell of a time of it when big Jack catches up with them. But how to get them?
Jack comes up with a plan. He sets a trap and baits it with Armstrong, a man who has realised just who exactly the assassins are, men from his own distant past. It’s all set for Froelich’s home town, a remote and small burg in Wyoming. Will the assassins turn up to get the Vice President at last? Will they succeed? Will Jack and Neagley stop them? Will the assassins suffer before they die? Does the Pope shit in the woods? All these answers and more will be found in the later pages of Without Fail.
This story is number 6 in the Jack Reacher series. The earlier ones are by far the best as Jack Reacher went from being reasonably believable to becoming a circus act turned preternatural entity. It’s fairly sad for Rebel Voice to see the way in which Lee Child got carried away with the character of Reacher. The big former soldier is a great concept, a modern day human Incredible Hulk or Kung Fu moving across the US solving problems for good people before wandering off into the sunset. It’s an Americana theme, that of the lonesome hero who can’t settle, who’s tough but kind, who always leaves after the battle has been won with the survivors left behind to wonder at his greatness. Wouldn’t it be wonderful and unusual to see a female version of this character; think John Wayne with ovaries.
Without Fail has plenty to recommend it. The characters are fairly strong. The plot is twisty and almost believable. The pace is fast as is usual for a Reacher story and the setting is, as always, sublime. Big Jack is, himself, a brute who always seems to get laid with beautiful women. Perhaps there’s hope for all of the normal-looking men out there, but only if they’re investigative, battle-hardened, tough-as-nails geniuses who happen to be former MPs in the US military and have a preference for being alone. Apparently, girls just love those cowboy types.
Sult scale rating: 7.5 out of 10. This is one of the better Reacher stories as the earlier ones usually are. For those wanting to get into the series, Rebel Voice recommends the obvious in that you should start at the beginning and work forward from there. Although Reacher stories are mostly stand-alone, there are recurring characters and plot points, so knowing about them magnifies enjoyment of the saga. Sadly, the book progression is mostly downhill in terms of Reacher’s credibility, so take delight in the earlier ones such as Without Fail.