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Past Tense: Lee Child cranks up the tension with peerless Jack Reacher return

Thriller: Past Tense, Lee Child, Bantam, hardback, 416 pages, €25


Formula: This is Lee Child's 23rd Reacher novel

Formula: This is Lee Child's 23rd Reacher novel

Past Tense by Lee Child

Past Tense by Lee Child


Formula: This is Lee Child's 23rd Reacher novel

Lee Child's Jack Reacher saga began with The Killing Floor, published back in 1998 to rave reviews and a slew of awards, including best first novel.

In a series as long and successful - this is the 23rd Reacher adventure - there is obviously a formula that must be followed. But Child has always managed to keep the franchise fresh and interesting by, every now and then, fleshing out Reacher's past and incorporating parts of it into the narrative.

Over the years, by making his past relevant to the present, we have discovered that Reacher's father Stan, an officer in the US Marines, while an efficient and ruthless soldier, was a warm and loving husband and father, that his French-born mother, Josephine Moutier, was a member of the Resistance at the age of 13 who was decorated by the French government after World War II, and that his brother Joe, two years older than him, was a US Treasury investigator who was killed in the line of duty.

Through these revelations we learn a lot more about what makes Reacher tick and why, as Child has said in interviews, he is modelled much more on a knight errant in the European tradition than the American lone stranger who rides into town, sorts out the baddies, and rides away into the sunset.

In Past Tense, Reacher, catching the last of the summer sun on the coast of Maine, thinks it time to follow the instinct of birds and migrate south. He sets out to hitch-hike from the top right-hand side of the country to San Diego at the bottom left. He doesn't get far. His first ride takes him to New Hampshire, dropping him off near a town called Laconia. Coincidentally, Laconia is a name he knows. It is the town in which his late father was raised until he escaped, aged 17, to join the Marines.

No one in Reacher's family has ever visited Laconia, and as far as he knows, no family lives there. However, he thinks, it might be nice to actually see where his father had spent his youth.

At almost the same time, two other travellers have stopped near Laconia. Shorty Fleck and Patty Sundstrom, a young Canadian couple heading for New York where they hope to sell a treasure to fund a life in Florida, are brought to a halt when their banged-up old Honda overheats and breaks down. While Reacher walks into town and finds a B&B, the Canadians are forced to stay in an isolated motel near an abandoned community called Tin Town eight miles outside Laconia.

Reacher's efforts to find the family home are frustrating. According to the town's official records, no Reachers have ever lived there. The only mention of Reacher's grandfather is in the computerised police records, and a local attorney gives him the information that his great-grandfather may have been a mill foreman in the locality. Reacher interviews a number of old timers and finds out a lot more about his forebears.

However, thanks to a chivalrous act that leaves a local young man badly injured, Reacher is in deep trouble. The boy's father, a man with Mob connections, sends for an assassination team from Boston, and the local police don't want a shoot-out endangering the citizens. Detective Brenda Amos, a former military policeman like Reacher who has been helping him, orders him out of town.

Inevitably though, Reacher wants to finish his research and his trail leads him to Tin Town, where the Canadians, Shorty and Patty, are desperately trying to stay alive, fighting for their lives against deadly superior forces. Can Reacher save them? Lee Child sets the stage for a wonderfully choreographed and deadly denouement, as tense and as exciting as anything he has done before, and in no small way reminiscent of David Morrell's First Blood, which was filmed as Rambo in 1982.

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