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, Frances Neagley.
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.