Reviewed: September 6, 2006
By: Lee Child
416 pages, $10.99
There are all kinds of reasons why
someone might want to kill another person. It might be politics. It might
be some obsessive personal issue. It might be the delusion of gaining fame.
It might be because of what the person does for a living.
The United States Secret Service is
assigned to protect the top political leaders in that country, and their natural
assumption is that if someone is trying to kill the vice-president elect,
it's because of his job.
It's a classic example of that old
saying: when the best tool you have is a hammer, every problem tends to look
like a nail.
It was their second mistake.
The first mistake is built right into
the operational protocols of the agency as described in this novel. They don't
ever tell their client the details of the assault they are attempting to prevent.
For Jack Reacher, the fun started when
team leader M.E. Froelich came to him with a proposal. He was to attempt to
work up a plan "to kill the fourth-best-protected person on the planet."
It was a complicated request. Reacher
had been a freelance, off the books, troubleshooter ever since he'd left the
U.S. Army's military police. His assignment was to test the security Froelich's
unit was providing to the V.P. without getting caught doing it. He’d given
himself ten days to do the job, with the help of another former military colleague,
They decided that there were two main
scenarios that an assassin might try, and labeled them John Malkovich or Edward
Fox, after the two movies "In the Line of Fire" and "The Day
of the Jackal". The Malkovich character intended to get his target even
if he died in the attempt. The Fox character intended to get away clean and
live to kill another day. They made severl trial runs using both techniques.
They found that Froelich's team was
good, and that she was excellent, but that they could have scored on at least
three occasions during the ten days if they had wanted to, using either of
the two scenarios. Given the need for elected people to be in public places,
total security just wasn't possible.
It was only after that report that
they learned Froelich had more than a hypothetical concern for her client’s
well-being. There had been threats, a series of them actually, on computer
printed letters placed in locations no one should have been able to access.
It looked a lot like someone inside the agency, or someone who used to be
inside the agency, had gone rogue.
The upshot of it is that Jack, the
consummate outsider, ends up very much on the inside of a complicated operation
intended to save the vice-president elect’s life from a clever and seemingly
invisible pair of assassins.
This operation brings him into ever
closer contact with Froelich,, who had been engaged to his late brother, Joe,
some eight years before, an engagement which Joe had broken off for reasons
which are never quite made clear. This relationship complicates the operation,
though it does not impede their professional prowess. Both of them have unresolved
issues with Joe and work them out through each other.
The story, as with all of Child’s Reacher
novels, is fast paced and unrelenting in its momentum. Days pass in a blur
of activity while plots and counter plots whir along. While I doubt that the
office of the secret service actually operates this way (even as I doubted
it during the recent assassination movie, “The Sentinel”), still the story
is convincing enough while you are caught up in it.
Jack Reacher has been described as
being Robert B. Parker’s Spenser - with attitude. I can see the resemblance.
This is what Spenser would be without his lady friend Susan, and the ever
helpful Hawk. In other words, Spenser is a happier man, while no less of a
knight errant. We don’t know Reacher well enough yet to know why he does what
he does. By the time that happens, we have to hope that he will begin to have
a real life.