Harry Kane's Reviews > A Wanted Man

A Wanted Man by Lee Child
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Oct 13, 12

Lee Child is the tightest writer alive. His prose makes early James Patterson read like YA romance. His only competition in the economic prose sudden violence department are Spillane and Don Pendelton, but unlike them, he’s a) British, b) our contemporary, and c) has class.

In A Wanted Man, Jack Reacher sports a freshly broken nose throughout the adventure, which starts as a simple hitchhiking and ends with circles within circles of various branches of the CIA, FBI, and terrorists. The buildup is awesome, the sparse prose – even more awesome. The plot resolution is weak, as always with this type of fiction. Let’s face it – a thriller where the resolution is equal to the buildup – or at least fools enough people that that is the case - becomes a legend. It outsells everything else in sight and the writer can retire if he feels like it. Like Silence of the Lambs, like Jaws, like Psycho, like The Eagle has Landed, like IT, like, dare I say it, The Da Vinci Code.

But being able to write a book where only the resolution sucks is already a mark that one is in the minuscule pool of the very best. Dean Koontz is there, Nelson DeMille is there, James Patterson is there, Clive Cussler is there, Patricia Cornwell is there, and Lee Child is there. Only Lee Child is not groping in the dark, cloaking himself in a cloud of protective metaphors and descriptions like a nervous literary octopus. He goes for the bare minimum and pulls it off in style.

Tension grows with every chapters in this book, and no one is who they seem to be, and yes, all this sounds terribly cliché, but then again, the whole genre is. The question is – can the author pull it off in style, and yes the author can and does.


THE CAR STOPPED thirty feet upstream of him. It had a local plate, and was a reasonable size, and American, and dark in colour. A Chevrolet, Reacher thought, probably dark blue, or grey, or black. It was hard to tell, in the vapour light. Dark metallics were always anonymous at night.

There were three people in the car. Two men in the front, and a woman in the back. The two men were twisted around in their seats, like there was a big three-way discussion going on. Like a democracy. Should we pick this guy up or not? Which suggested to Reacher that the three people didn’t know each other very well. Such decisions among good friends were usually instinctive. These three were business colleagues, maybe, a team of equals, thrown together for the duration, exaggeratedly respectful of each other’s positions, especially the outnumbered woman’s.

Reacher saw the woman nod, and he lip-read her yes, and the men turned back and faced front again, and the car rolled forward. It stopped again with the front passenger’s window alongside Reacher’s hip. The glass came down. Reacher bent at the waist and felt warmth on his face. This car’s heater was working just fine. That was for damn sure.

The guy in the front passenger seat asked, ‘Where are you headed tonight, sir?’

Reacher had been a cop in the army for thirteen years, and then for almost as long had lived on his wits, and he had survived both phases of his life by being appropriately cautious and by staying alert. All five senses, all the time. Deciding whether or not to take an offered ride depended mostly on smell. Could he smell beer? Weed? Bourbon? But right then he could smell nothing at all. His nose had just been broken. His nasal passages were clogged with blood and swellings. Maybe his septum was permanently deviated. It felt entirely possible he would never smell anything ever again.

Touch was not an option in that situation, either. Nor was taste. He would learn nothing by groping around like a blind man, or by licking things. Which left sight and sound. He heard neutral tones from the front passenger, no marked regional accent, an educated cadence, an air of authority and executive experience. On all three of them he saw soft uncalloused hands, unmuscled frames, neat hair, no tans. Indoor people. Office folk. Not at the top of the tree, but a long way from the bottom. They each looked somewhere in their middle forties, perhaps halfway through their lives, but more than halfway through their careers. Like lieutenant colonels, maybe, in army terms. Solid achievers, but not superstars.

Each of them had on black pants and a blue denim shirt. Like uniforms. The shirts looked cheap and new, still creased from the wrapper. A team-building exercise, Reacher figured. Some kind of corporate bullshit. Fly a bunch of middle-ranking executives out from their regional offices, get them together in the wilderness, give them shirts, set them tasks. Maybe all the hoo-hah was making them feel a little bit adventurous, which was why they were picking him up. And maybe there would be candid mutual critiquing afterwards, which was why they had laboured through the big three-way democratic discussion. Teams needed teamwork, and teamwork needed consensus, and consensus needed to be unforced, and gender issues were always sensitive. In fact Reacher was a little surprised the woman wasn’t riding in front, or driving. Although driving might have been seen as a subservient role, for the only woman in a trio. Like fetching coffee.

A minefield.
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