Lee Child populates these inhospitable wastelands with simple but decent country yokels dominated by people bent mean by the hellish weather. Oops, sc...moreLee Child populates these inhospitable wastelands with simple but decent country yokels dominated by people bent mean by the hellish weather. Oops, scratch that. That’s from my review of 61 Hours, the first part the saga. Worth Dying For occurs days after the end of 61 Hours, just enough time for Reacher to hitchhike 140 miles to the middle of desolate nowhere. But it’s a balmy, desolate nowhere. Yessiree, after Reacher stared down relentless cold, blizzards, and ice, he’s now in balmy Nebraska. In 61 Hours, poor ol’ South Dakota was bedevilled with temperatures of -30; Nebraska is warm enough to whistle down the highway with the top down.
So Reacher’s in utopia after escaping the hellhole they call South Dakota? Not quite. Let’s cue up Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska for ambience. Child’s Nebraska is inhospitable wastelands with simple but decent country yokels dominated by people bent mean by the isolation.
I suspect the pace caught up with Child. Worth Dying For was released a scant six months after 61 Hours and his research is lacking. Typically we’re regaled with trivia and math calculations (Reacher is fond of prime numbers) to assure us that our hero is not just a hard man – he’s a thinking, observant hard man.
If only we could turn back the clock 20 years, when Patrick Swayze was alive. It would solve one the biggest problems of 2011 – Tom Cruise is being cast as Reacher. Film aficionados have noted that Mr. Cruise is not 6’ 5”, always a salient point in the Reacher novels. Swayze could easily reprise his role in Roadhouse.
Of course, if we could reverse the clock, we could go back to 1960. Back then, the good guys weren’t nearly as efficient. It took seven guys what Reacher can easily do by himself. The Magnificent Seven? I don’t think, so. Compared to Reacher, they’re The Slacker Seven. Still if it were 1960, we have a younger Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, or James Coburn and that would solve that pesky Tom Cruise problem nicely.
I don’t think a thriller needs to be precise. Enjoy the ride. Sometimes, though, mistakes are more than just quibbles. He mentions crossing the border just south of Medicine Hat, Alberta, “due north” of North Platte, Nebraska. Due north would be southwest Manitoba. The province of Saskatchewan is between the two. In American terms, that’s like saying that Buffalo is due north of Chicago. So he confuses Buffalo with Chicago, who cares? It’s just that Child specifically mentions it a couple of times and ties in the fact that sunrise would be later at the higher latitude. These are the type of facts that Reacher would use to break the case. We’re trained to like Reacher to note these salient facts. But these “salient facts” are wrong and disconcerting.
Then again, maybe the novel isn’t supposed to make a lot of sense. The bad guys are smuggling cargo into the U.S. from the port of Vancouver and shipping it out via western Nebraska. Our baddies aren’t the brightest lot around but they’ve been doing this for decades and most of their cargo ends up in Las Vegas. They’ve had years to figure out that they don’t need to do a 3,000 mile detour through Nebraska – it would be a hell of lot quicker and cheaper to run 1,200 miles straight from Vancouver to Vegas.
I think Lee Child has tested his limits and found that he can’t rip off a novel in only six months. Skipping the work has hurt him – this is not one of his best efforts. (less)
Jack Reacher is a wuss! And Lee Child watched Fargo! Our trusty hero is west of the Mississippi again – which means that Lee Child has to describe a p...moreJack Reacher is a wuss! And Lee Child watched Fargo! Our trusty hero is west of the Mississippi again – which means that Lee Child has to describe a place that he can’t possibly fathom. This novel, set in frozen South Dakota, is the meteorological flip-side of the searing heat of west Texas in Echo Burning. As true Englishman in New York, he populates these inhospitable wastelands with simple but decent country yokels dominated by people bent mean by the hellish weather.
The frozen hell of South Dakota is so bad that Reacher, the normally invincible man-robot, succumbs to the cold. He whines and bitches throughout the novel like a snivelling little brat. Poor Reacher had walk two miles in -30 cold and damn near died. Once he got inside, he “hugged himself in agony” and his bones “felt like they were all broken and crushed”, even though he was well-clad in a heavy Highway Patrolman’s overcoat. Jack Reacher is a wuss.
Even though I’ve bashed Reacher, I still like the series. Literature, it ain’t but I don’t care. I think we’re supposed to read the book fast enough not to pay attention to details, but when Child finds himself on unfamiliar grounds, clichés don’t just abound, they annoy. Since Child is convinced nada happens in the Dakotas, we get same ol’ Fargo tableau over and over. Now I loved Fargo, but it shouldn’t be your primary source of information.
Normally a cartoon character like Plato, the evil Mexican drug lord, would make me winch at its stupidity but he was a welcome change from the relentless descriptions of the snow and cold. Child obviously feels the sillier the better – not only is Plato ridiculously sadistic but he also displays jewellery and paintings from his pawn shops in his lair, not because likes them, but as trophies. “He didn’t much care for art. Not his thing. Each canvas was a souvenir, that was all, of a ruined life.” Every item pawned meant that someone gave up their most cherished possessions for drugs – his drugs. Umm, really? (less)
Sigh. There’s always something. I happily plough through the books but … Hope and Despair? These are the names of two Colorado towns next to each othe...moreSigh. There’s always something. I happily plough through the books but … Hope and Despair? These are the names of two Colorado towns next to each other. Guess which one is an awful, joyless company town run by a miserly and miserable Christian fanatic.
Oh, and guess which town has the cute, smart, and able cop that Reacher charms into helping him.
Subtlety has never been a strong point of the series. Acceptable, I suppose, given the nature of the books. But there has to be a limit to the sheer obviousness of it all.
I groaned a bit when saw the book was set west of the Mississippi. Lee Child strikes me as a true Englishman living in New York. He really doesn’t understand the mentality of the western states and relies on cartoons for his characterizations.
Then again, we’re not reading for characterizations. Just zip through the book – it’s still an enjoyable read. (less)
The problem of expectations – expect too much and disappointment ruins the tale. The Lock Artist appears on number of recommended or “Best” Lists and...moreThe problem of expectations – expect too much and disappointment ruins the tale. The Lock Artist appears on number of recommended or “Best” Lists and the premise, a teen-aged elective mute safecracker, sounds intriguing. It promised to be as original as Jonathan Lethem’s tour-de-force Motherless Brooklyn. Alas, this is not Motherless Brooklyn.
After a promising start, by cranking up the suspense by telling that our protagonist, Mike, suffered a traumatic event as a young child and was dubbed the “Miracle Boy”, an event so traumatic that he never spoke again and can’t tell us even now as he relates his history. The book in the first-person voice, an unusual voice for a novel. Promising indeed.
But then it all falls apart – or more accurately devolves into a by-the-numbers coming-of-age story. I call it the “American Cinderella.” High-school kid from the wrong side of the tracks struggles with quiet dignity while loud, obnoxious jocks and mean girls poke fun at him. Of course the prettiest girl notices his substance and is infinitely patient of his failings. They share a common bond of art – both are gifted artists, naturally. These might sound like spoilers. They’re not, Hamilton telegraphs the clichés. To be fair to Hamilton, they’re such worn clichés, it’s hard not to telegraph them.
He alternates chapters between Mike’s high school life and his present-day problems. It’s an effective device; it helps to sustain whatever suspense is left. The criminal gang can be seen on any run-of-the-mill cable TV movie, so there’s not much of a surprise when the heist finally happens.
This book is a lost opportunity. The premise is good but it’s a shame that the story wasn’t as good. I’ve read one book of Steve Hamilton’s Alex McKnight series. This series is also highly praised. I must be immune to Hamilton’s charms because the book was merely adequate in my eyes. This is not to say that he’s a bad writer. I just don’t understand all the fuss. (less)
Sometimes it’s interesting to read an author after a hiatus. I read C.J. Box’s opening two instalments in his “Joe Pickett” series, Open Season and Sa...moreSometimes it’s interesting to read an author after a hiatus. I read C.J. Box’s opening two instalments in his “Joe Pickett” series, Open Season and Savage Run in 2001 and 2002. Box’s ninth instalment is 2009’s Below Zero, a tale where he resurrects a couple of characters from his 2003 novel, Winterkill. The resurrection of his foster daughter is almost literal because she was thought to have perished in a fire in Winterkill. Fortunately the novel diverts our attention from this somewhat iffy opening with entertaining, fast-paced action. This is a quick, fun read.
Box does a credible job with the Pickett family, imbuing the characters and family dynamics with realistic detail. If he had only done the same with his villains. Box tends to rely on stock characters. His nemesis at the FBI reminds me of Chalmers in Bullitt, memorably played by Robert Vaughn. Alas, the ambitious, tightly-wound FBI boss without a shred of humanity has been done too many times since Bullitt in 1968. But if Steve McQueen and Jackie Bisset ever wanted to leave San Francisco and settle down and start a family, Steve might have become a Wyoming game warden. This is not a knock against Box; I’ve always liked Steve McQueen and Pickett is a likable character.
Another strength of this series is Box’s descriptions of the Wyoming landscape and people. His writing is clear and direct and yet descriptive. I’ve driven the 25 & 80 Interstates and two National Parks and Box’s writing takes me there again. He’s poetic without being fussy and doesn’t succumb to faux Hemingway just because the terrain is rugged.
I’ll quibble about the plot. Box gravitates to the “ripped from the headlines” style of Law & Order. At its best, this style can be very good. But this is a bad L&O, where a murder, or in this case, a string of murders, is shoehorned into the story so our hero has something to solve. Box, nevertheless, offers a fairly evenhanded account of the carbon footprint and climate change issues. He throws out a few fascinating facts without compromising his story, which is fortunate, because it’s a fun read.
If perceptions and illusions intrigue you, this is the book for you. I’m fascinated by the subject. These books seem to be tricky to write. In order t...moreIf perceptions and illusions intrigue you, this is the book for you. I’m fascinated by the subject. These books seem to be tricky to write. In order to be credible, the author ought to have a grounding in social sciences, which tends to burden them with the curse of academia. Making the switch a breezy, anecdotal style from the torpor of scholarly writing is like hopping into a roadster from a big rig. Stories are another problem. They should be compelling and fresh. If one spends years assembling relatable examples, the material often feels like a stale comedian. After a few “What’s the deal with airplane food?” jokes, we cease to listen, no matter how good the delivery.
So the good news is that The Invisible Gorilla is (mostly) very fresh and funny and appropriate. It covers a lot of ground, so intense devotees of cognitive psychology may be disappointed, but the examples are usually succinct and precise. They conclusively demolish former Playboy Playmate Jenny McCarthy’s assertion that vaccines cause autism. Admittedly, it’s not a hard target to hit, but it’s nicely done. They also take on Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink, which is a more intimidating target. Gladwell is revered in some circles and I’m sure they’ll take issue with Chabris and Simons’s sniping. I haven’t read Blink, but their comments made sense to me.
The book also offers plausible explanations of Hillary Clinton’s Bosnian misremembrance during the 2008 campaign and George W. Bush’s recollection of the 9/11 events. This will vex fans of Fox News commentators and 9/11 conspiracy theorists, but it rings true and echoes some of my experiences. In general, I found most of their observations to be reasonable.
Some may be distressed to learn that pop psychology, and hucksters, have bestowed an “illusion of potential.” This is the belief that “vast reservoirs of untapped mental ability exist in our brains, just waiting to be accessed.” Hence the “Baby Einstein” videos, playing classical music to make us smarter, and the belief that we only use ten percent of our mental capacity. All myths. I didn’t see the book as pessimistic. Better to be forewarned.