Tour’s Books Blog

May 30, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: Gone Tomorrow by Lee Child

That blissful, satisfied sigh you hear is me.  I devoured Gone Tomorrow in less than a day, all 421 pages.  No, it isn’t deathless prose, not even for an action thriller, but it is what Lee Child and his protagonist Jack Reacher do best – slam into you at full tilt from the opening lines and leave you hanging on for a wild thrill  ride.

“Suicide bombers are easy to spot.  They give out all kinds of telltale signs.  Mostly because they’re nervous.  By definition they’re all first timers.”

Jack Reacher is on the Lexington Avenue local at 2AM and remembering all the training he had by Israeli counterintelligence while watching a woman that fits the suicide bomber profile perfectly.  She’s wearing a bulky oversized parka on a hot fall day and it’s zipped to the neck.  She keeps muttering, as if reciting a prayer, her hands hidden in a small backpack on her lap wrapped around something hard – like the battery and detonator switch.  But surely it’s the wrong time – not enough people, but it was impossible for Reacher to ignore.  He figures he’s as dead where he sits as he will be closer, so he approaches.  Trying to calm her, he says he’s a cop.  Instead, she pulls out a gun and kills herself with a .357 Magnum through her head.

Det. Theresa Lee talks to Reacher at the scene and then has him go back to the station where she and her partner, Docherty, take his statement again.  Thing is, he’s just a witness so what’s it really about?  Reacher realizes they’re just stalling.   Not for the FBI.  The whole world knows the largest FBI field office in the US is in NYC, so those guys would have been there long ago.  Someone from Washington.  One of the alphabet agencies.  Sure enough, they arrive, complete with dire threats under the Patriot Act.  They were only interested in whether or not he knew the woman on the train and did she pass him anything.  Did he know a woman named Lila Hoth?  No. No. No.

He’s done, or so he thinks.  Out in the street some more guys in suits are waiting for him claiming to work for a private security company.  They ask the same questions as the nameless feds in the station.  Did she give him anything?  Did he take anything from her body?  Did she mention anyone?  Like Lila Hoth?  John Samson?  And with that question Reacher has the next bit of the puzzle.

Coffee with Jacob Mark, the brother of Susan Mark, the suicide victim and himself a cop in Jersey, has Reacher doing a combination soul searching and counseling a bereaved family member.  Jacob keeps saying Susan had no reason for such an act.  He is utterly convinced that, despite their distant relationship, his sister was a happy woman and not at all someone who would kill herself.   At least Reacher learns how she was identified so quickly, she worked at the Pentagon.  Was that why feds – probably DoD – showed up?  Did she take something from the Pentagon?

But what’s really driving Reacher is the small chance that by telling the woman he was a cop, he was responsible for pushing her over the edge.  The anguish and bewilderment of her brother hits Reacher hard where he is most vulnerable, in his conscience.  What the hell could drive a woman to such an extreme act so far from home for no apparent reason?  Like everyone, Susan Mark had a pressure point, her estranged son, a standout lineman on the USC football team, who seems to be missing and cannot be reached on his cell phone.  What would she, a clerk in what is effectively the Human Resources department, have access to that’s so important that the DoD would show up?  And who were those guys in the street?

Reacher is off and running from everyone from NYPD’s Counterterrorism team, to the FBI to the DoD.  Everyone wants what she gave him – only she gave him nothing.  The fear factor escalates after Reacher visits with two women claiming to be Ukrainian looking into the death of the young woman’s father in the Russian-Afgan war in 1983 – the stunning younger one is Lila Hoth.  Supposedly her father was a sniper and his spotter was her uncle – and they were killed very gruesomely by the Afghan tribeswomen, but his state of the art sniper rifle was never found.  Reacher finds himself looking for Senator John Samson, a potential future presidential candidate who was an officer in the Army’s elite Delta forces with high level awards that coincide with dates the stunning Lila supplied for her father’s death Afghanistan.

It’s almost impossible to discuss the plot without giving away too many of the surprises, so I’ll just say that in the end, it all revolves around what should have been secured files, files well outside the very  limited  accesses of the late Susan Mark, that seem to be what everyone is certain she had – and thinks she gave him.  Rather like hunting for the Maltese Falcon, where is the memory stick with the file?  Who has it?  What’s on it and who is so willing to kill for it?  What part in this did John Samson have?  And why was John Samson’s chief of staff the man who fled the scene of the suicide if they were unaware of her activities as they claim?

The twists and turns are all classic Reacher, if slightly less innovative than the earlier books.  Gone Tomorrow was a far more satisfying read than Nothing to Lose.  Yes, I know, there was the annoying, stereotypical, inevitable and apparently obligatory sex, which 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 for an amazing book), or Tripwire, Persuader, or Without Fail or even One Shot – his last really good book by my reckoning.  Still, Gone Tomorrow is certainly more in the classic Reacher style and a welcome relief from the last three books.

Even as the story races along there are these little annoyances that clash with earlier books and character quirks of Reacher.  Missing from Gone Tomorrow are all those apparently useless little tidbits of information that Reacher always seems to have at his command.  And his sudden ineptitude with cell phones – something he’s used in previous books, struck a false note.  Even worse – his sudden ignorance of geography.  All the detailed information Reacher could call forth with ease before is now suddenly gone?  Certainly being out of the service for 13 years doesn’t mean he could fail to know where Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan are.  Lee Child needs to get Reacher back up to par intellectually or I’ll have to assume all those head butts have caused brain damage.

The Jack Reacher character has a great deal in common with other fictional heroes in action thrillers and mysteries, even Westerns.  They are looking to balance the scales, get some measure of justice.  Reacher is a realist, a pragmatist, but he has that element of righteous anger, that touch of idealist,  that you find in other heroic characters from Shane to Mitch Rapp to Spenser.  You know he is imperfect, but his cause is just.  Watching Reacher’s mind work out problems is as much fun as watching him kick ass.  And it is in that combination of thug and puzzle solving he reminds me more of Robert B. Parker’s Spenser than any of the other character.  Kyle Mills’ Mark Beamon is more cerebral, not a loner, and far less action hero, but he and Reacher share a lot of common ground as well, especially in the twisted way their minds work.  If you haven’t done so, read Mills’ Sphere of Influence and you’ll see what I mean.  It’s one of the more under-rated thrillers out there with a fascinating premise that was way more credible than most.

Despite its failings, Gone Tomorrow is a good read for an action thriller.  It tears along at breakneck speed, has all the necessary obstacles, and the bad guys get theirs in the end!  The premise is no more or less believable than usual for a book of this type.  Child was not in top form, but he certainly seemed to realize fans wanted the classic Reacher back.  Now, if he just put a little more effort into the details, I’d be thrilled.  Best of all, for his fans, Reacher still kicks ass with the best of them.

My Grade: B- (3.8*)

Who would enjoy this book:  Reacher fans, Spenser fans, Kyle Mills’ Mark Beamon fans and readers of Brad Thor and Vince Flynn.  The rating would be PG-17 for violence.

NOTE:  I looked at the reviews on Amazon and wondered at the number of 1* reviews only to discover all but one were about the Kindle price, not the book itself.  This is rather frustrating for authors who are getting their ratings slammed based on Amazon’s pricing issues.  If you don’t like the book, fine, but don’t hurt the author’s reputation by giving his book a poor star rating.

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4 Comments »

  1. Hi there,

    You commented on Dear Author about my first page from Lucky’s Charm, the female assassin. I wanted to thank you for your comments. I too am a HUGE Reacher fan. I haven’t read your review yet, because I haven’t read the book yet, but soon! I’m looking forward to it!!

    Thanks again
    Jenn

    Comment by jenn nixon — June 2, 2009 @ 11:14 am | Reply

    • There are too few books out there with capable females in those dark and dangerous jobs so favored by alpha males. If you have not done so, read The Master Sniper, Point of impact, A time to Hunt all by Steven Hunter and White Star by James Thayer. Also, find a good biography of Carlos Hathcock, the famous Marine sniper in Viet Nam that Swagger was partially drawn from. Barry Ozeroff, a former police sniper wrote two books that might be of interest. Police snipers are trained differently than military snipers, and his Sniper Shot and One Shot are not as well written as the others above, but they are full of details about training you might find useful.

      Good luck with that book. I happen to enjoy romantic suspense very much.

      Comment by toursbooks — June 2, 2009 @ 10:04 pm | Reply

  2. Yes, Child wasn’t at the top of his game with this one, but he was definitely working his way back. I found Nothing to Lose almost unreadable, so I was pleasantly surprised by this one. I haven’t read Kyle Mills so I’ll try that one. May was thriller month for me with this one, The Scarecrow and Rucka’s Walking Dead. All were better than expected.

    Comment by jenreads — June 10, 2009 @ 3:20 pm | Reply

  3. Jenn – Another Kyle Mills book I recommend is Fade. It was very well done and not at all the usual story.

    Comment by toursbooks — June 10, 2009 @ 9:56 pm | Reply


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