Tuesday 20 August 2019

Reacher tackles rural America's drug crisis

Thriller: The Midnight Line, Lee Child, Bantam Press, ­paperback, 391 pages, €12.99

Solid fare: Lee Child
Solid fare: Lee Child
The Midnight Line by Lee Child

Myles McWeeney

Lee Child famously decided to write a bestseller when he was made redundant from Granada Television in 1995.

Two years later, The Killing Floor, written by pencil on a yellow legal pad, now generally referred to as Jack Reacher #1, was published. It became an instant success, winning two major crime-writing awards that year. The Midnight Line is the 22nd novel in the series.

Having struck the literary equivalent of an oilfield gusher at his first attempt, Child has never seen the need to change a winning formula. Reacher adventures have always started with staccato sentences - "I was arrested in Enzo's diner." (Reacher #1)... "Nathan Rubin died because he got brave"... right down to the current offering, which begins: "Jack Reacher and Michelle Yang spent three days in Milwaukee. On the fourth morning she was gone."

Reacher does what he always does in situations like this. He moves on, taking the first bus out of town, whatever its destination. On a stop-over he goes for a walk. In a pawnshop window he spots a West Point class ring. It is small so he knows it belongs to a female army officer. Such rings are precious to their owners, so how did this end up in a pawnshop in rural Midwest America? Is the owner in trouble? Does she need help?

Intrigued and not a little troubled, Reacher buys the ring and sets out to trace the owner. As is often the case when Reacher's curiosity is aroused, it leads him into a major confrontation, this time with a tough biker gang. When Reacher has clinically dealt with them, the last man standing points him towards a crook called Arthur Scorpio in Rapid City in South Dakota. Scorpio, who turns out to be a person of interest to the DEA, points him towards a little town called Mule Crossing in a remote part of Wyoming. Reacher sticks out his thumb and hitches there.

By now, using his contacts in the army from when he had been a major in the Military Police, Reacher knows he is searching for Major Rose Sanderson, a decorated veteran of five tours in Afghanistan. By accident he bumps into Rose Sanderson's twin sister, who has enlisted private detective Terrence Bramall, a former FBI agent. The three soon discover that Rose has inadvertently fallen foul of a highly organised drug cartel that it dealing in stolen legal, but highly addictive, opioids, the drug du jour of rural America. The scene is set for a final violent confrontation as Reacher attempts to find a just solution for a troubled fellow former soldier.

The Midnight Line is solid Reacher fare, perhaps a little slower-moving than some previous adventures in the series, but Child is right on message in this examination of this new pervasive and debilitating drug crisis in rural America.

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