Tour’s Books Blog

March 11, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: The Killing Floor by Lee Child

Jack Reacher is an Army brat raised with his older brother on bases around the world. Schooled at West Point, and a following career in Army, his whole life is intimately tied to the service. In the service and became a first rate investigator in the MP’s, among other things. Now a retired major, thanks to the huge military downsizing in the ‘90’s, and free of the of the regimentation that has been there his whole life. Now he finds comfort moving around at will. Under the radar suits him just fine. No hometown, no family ties, other than a very distant relationship with his Secret Service bother whom he hasn’t seen in years, he’s truly free. But that’s about to change.

The Killing Floor, Lee Child’s first book, opens in machine gun style:

“I was arrested at Eno’s Diner. At twelve o’clock. I was eating eggs and drinking coffee. A late breakfast, not lunch. I was wet and tired after a long walk in heavy rain. All the way from the highway to the edge of town.”

As Reacher moves from the local jail, to a nite in a prison holding cell, to release next morning, his size and capacity for violence save his life and that of another man with him. Despite every effort, Reacher is still a curious man. He looks at things differently. The very frightened man in the cell with Reacher tells him just a little bit of information. Reacher refuses to be drawn. When they are both released, Reacher’s alibi confirmed, Reacher is planning to leave town. The lovely deputy changes his mind in the usual way. He also resents the people trying to force him out. Despite realizing there is something profoundly wrong in Margrave, despite the plea for help from the wife of the man he protected in prison, despite his attraction to a female deputy, he does not want to get involved. Then the Sheriff and his wife are murdered in a very gruesome fashion and Reacher decides to lend a hand.

When Reacher learns the second dead body found the day of the original murder is his older brother, all bets are off and vengeance is on the menu. What the hell was the head of a Secret Service department doing in Margrave, Georgia alone at night? What would draw him there? With the help of the deputy and an FBI agent, and information from a colleague of his brother, Reacher begins unraveling a tale of greed, the kind of greed that makes an entire town look the other way. The Sheriff and his wife meet a gruesome end. The body count climbs rather high in this book, so does the tension as the plot twists and turns again and again. The ending had one last twist I did not see coming. A very satisfying read for action-thriller fans.

The Killing Floor is an innovative, violent and complex novel that is surprisingly long for an action thriller. The body count at the end of the book is astonishing, but the plot never slows down. Unlike wise cracking PI’s or characters like Dirk Pitt, there is no banter to lighten the noir atmosphere of the book. Yet it lacks the truly dark noir edge you’ll find in books by Andrew Vachss or Dennis Lehane.

Reacher is a man comfortable in his own skin, an odd mix of sudden, casual violence and questioning intellect. A loner in a room full of people, a natural observer of human interaction, an analyzer of information. He does not see himself as some kind of wandering paladin, righting the many wrongs of the world. He’d rather not get involved in other people’s problems, but deals with whatever comes his way in a brutal, efficient fashion. There is an amoral edge to Reacher’s violence. He operates on his own code and is little given to remorse. Many will find these character traits and the compounding coincidences that build the story stretch the believability a bit much, but for me, it remained a very enjoyable ride.

The Killing Floor is, overall, a compelling read. It has the same major flaw as much of the action thriller genre – improbable coincidence. In this instance, the biggest improbable coincidence is both Reacher brothers’ being in a small town in Georgia – and one of them is murdered the same night the other arrives. Most others would be spoilers if I mentioned them. Regardless, the book is a top notch read for the genre.

Lee Child has now written 13 Reacher novels and the last 4 entries have lost their creative edge and begun a rapid downhill slide. A new Reacher book is due out this year. After so many disappointments, I think I’ll wait to buy it.  Like most Reacher novels, this one sits on my ‘Keeper’ shelf.  I recently re-read it and found it has held up well for me.

My Grade: A-

Who would enjoy this book: Barry Eisler fans should enjoy the first 8 to 9 books, though Reacher and John Rain have very different psychological makeups. Fans of Vince Flynn, Brad Thor, earlier Jack Higgins and Kyle Mills’ Mark Beamon books should give this series a try.  The book would be rated PG-17 to NC-17 for the violence.


1 Comment »

  1. […] is strictly PG-13 and takes little of the story, and the story itself is not as complex as those in The Killing Floor (where statistical probabilities where pushed beyond the boundary of credibility, but still made […]

    Pingback by BOOK REVIEW: Gone Tomorrow by Lee Child « Tour’s Books Blog — May 30, 2009 @ 1:51 pm | Reply

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