Past Tense by Lee Child

J. L. Harland • May 3rd, 2021

In this 23rd book of the Jack Reacher series, Reacher takes a day out of his road trip when he comes across a sign for Laconia, New Hampshire - the place his father said he grew up.

The story starts with a slow burn from which there is a steady build-up of tension. All is not as it seems in the Reacher’s family history; nor for the young Canadian couple, Patty and Shorty, who, after their car breaks down, end up in a remote motel outside town.

They come to realise that they are being held hostage by a mysterious group of men who have sophisticated surveillance cameras and bugging devices.

In typical Reacher fashion it isn’t long before he gets into a couple of fights supporting the underdog; a cocktail waitress assaulted by 20-year-old Willie, son of a wealthy gang member, and thugs sent to see him off. Later he defends an elderly apple farmer from a group who have taken over the land where Jack Reacher’s family lived - the now derelict Ryanstown.

Things hot up as the two stories begin to converge…

Stylistically, this is a well-crafted mixture of detail on machinery, location, history, buildings, fighting techniques; together with philosophical rhetoric around doing the right thing according to Reacher’s idiosyncratic moral code.

Several times we see Reacher in dialogue with himself, aware of his primitive and his civilised self, his front and back brain. This is a book where emotion is channelled narrow and deep into questions of power, authority and the winners and losers in society. Rough justice is meted out, often in hand-to-hand physical combat. Reacher is reminiscent in some ways of Beowulf, heroic, a giant among men, untethered by the emotional connections of partner, family and children, living on his wits, unconventional and always on the move. Jack Reacher is the classic loner, the hero who dares to takes on the bad guys, surviving by his wits and superior physical strength.

Reacher finds out about his father’s background, though not who his father’s parents were. That remains a mystery. The story ends with Reacher on the road again - hitching to San Diego, still with the problem he had at the beginning when he took the detour to Laconia - and with plenty of scope for more story to come.

Another exciting Reacher tale, published by Delacorte Press, an adrenaline rush from the slow burn of its opening.

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