Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Review: Tripwire

Tripwire Tripwire by Lee Child
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

“What kind of book is this?” he asked.

I thought about the answer to that a moment.

“What kind of book is this?” he asked again.

There are many ways to respond to that question. I should think about this for a second longer.

“What kind of book is this?” he asked a third time.

It’s the kind of book that has somebody repeating questions a whole bunch of times while other characters ponder things so if you’re already irritated you should probably avoid it.

Ex-military policeman Jack Reacher has been living in Key West where he’s earning a living digging swimming pools, and his idea of a good time is drinking a bunch of mineral water. (No, seriously.) Reacher has no interest in disrupting his quiet routine, but when a private investigator comes around looking for him it kicks off a chain of events which eventually lead Reacher into digging up the secrets of a murderous man in New York City with a dark history that leads back to the Vietnam War.

My experience with this series is weird. I hated the first book, but people I trust told me the series gets much better. Then I saw the Jack Reacher movie and enjoyed it quite a bit so I tried the second book, and it was OK but still didn’t blow my hair back. So here I am trying the third one, and it had about two dozen things that made me roll my eyes. Yet I didn’t absolutely hate it.

I get the appeal of these. The idea of the manliest man to ever walk the face of the earth randomly stumbling into adventures is fun if you like a certain style of action thriller. Child has made big improvements in these early books already like moving from first person to third means that I don’t have Reacher himself telling me how awesome he is on every page. Plus, he’s scaled back the idea that Reacher is a Sherlock Holmes level of detective genius who can make incredible leaps based on the slimmest of clues.

The core story here is pretty good, but as with the first couple of books there’s a constant parade of things that are just so ridiculous or outright stupid that they take me out of the story. One of the biggies is that the main villain in this is a complete cartoon sadist straight out of James Bond with a burned and scarred face as well as a hook used in place of an amputated hand, and it’s so far over the top that it’s hard to take him or the book seriously.

There’s also a very icky subplot where Reacher reconnects with the daughter of his old Army mentor who has recently died. Jodie was a teenage girl, and Reacher was in his mid- twenties when they were around each other back in the day. Yet it becomes very clear that they both had that the hots for each other, and they both still have these old feelings. Child spends a lot of time justifying and rationalizing this plot, and yeah, now they’re both adults and nothing physical happened when she was underage. But it’s just so unnecessary to play it this way.

Why couldn’t Jodie have been in college and Reacher only a few years older when they met and were attracted to each other? Then it’s not an issue at all and makes Reacher far less creepy. (The only thing I can think of is that Child had a Hollywood idea of what a couple in this kind of story looks like, and god forbid we have a lady over thirty hooking up with the hero even though he’s pushing forty himself.)

Another thing is that the book constantly contradicts itself and then goes out of its way to underline that it’s doing so in the most forehead slapping way possible. For example, at one point Reacher thought he knew how some thugs would come after him and Jodie. Yet they use a different tactic which takes him by surprise and almost works. Afterword, Reacher calmly notes that he hadn’t thought about them doing that which was almost a fatal mistake. Yet later in the book when it looks like an assumption that he made was wrong Reacher has a complete meltdown about it where he bemoans the loss of his once perfect record at following his hunches and wonders what he’s supposed to do in life now that his skills have so obviously failed him. So Reacher shrugs off making an error that almost gets them killed, and yet when a blue sky guess he made that has no immediate potential impact looks like it might be wrong he falls apart.

There’s lots more like that, but I’m going to spoiler tag these next few. I’m not giving up the ending, just some things that happen along the way. (view spoiler)

There’s another factor that made me cringe a few times while reading, but this wasn’t Child's fault. The book was published in 1999, and the main villain has an office in the World Trade Center which is where a lot of the action takes place. Plus, at one point Reacher pays cash an airline ticket to New York using a fake name. Those were big reminders that the world was a very different place back then, and while there’s no way Child could have known what was coming it does give the book an uncomfortable vibe at times.

There are other nitpicks to make, but these are the major ones that took what started out as a very solid action thriller/mystery and turned into a hot mess. Child has storytelling skills, and at their best these books are a hoot. But did no editor every look at this and suggest some changes that would tighten up the story and keep him from highlighting the things that don’t make sense? It would have helped a lot.

View all my reviews

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