THE AFFAIR constitutes a landmark of sorts in the Jack Reacher mythos. While it is neither a coming-of-age work nor a “child is father to the man” novel, author Lee Child takes his readers back to a point in time and a series of events that find Reacher on the track he has followed over the course of 15 books. It also establishes once and for all that while Reacher has certainly earned and deserved his status as an archetypal thriller protagonist, he is at his core a detective and one of the more capable in modern fiction. It is not that he is incapable of error; on the contrary, he errs early and often. It is his ability to step back from mistakes and right his course that separates him from his peers. This, coupled with a classic murder mystery, makes THE AFFAIR one of the most noteworthy books of 2011.
"It is [Reacher's] ability to step back from mistakes and right his course that separates him from his peers. This, coupled with a classic murder mystery, makes THE AFFAIR one of the most noteworthy books of 2011."
The book takes place over the course of a few days in March 1997, when Reacher, still within the purview of the United States Army, is assigned to go undercover in Carter Crossing, Mississippi, a small town near an Army base used for the training and unofficial deployment of Special Forces troops to Kosovo. A woman has been brutally murdered in Carter Crossing, and the killer appears to be a soldier from the base. An investigator has been assigned there, but Reacher is acting as an undercover investigator within the town and given orders to find out everything he can, manage the local police, and get lost.
Reacher is troubled by the assignment from the jump, and becomes even more so when he begins investigating on his own. The local sheriff, meanwhile, is an ex-Marine named Elizabeth Deveroux, a very savvy and attractive woman whose charms are not lost on Reacher. But Deveroux seems to have some secrets, and when Reacher finds that the murder he is investigating is only the latest in a series, he knows that there is much more to the quiet town of Carter Crossing than he had initially suspected.
When his investigation leads back to the military base and an officer with strong connections to Washington, D.C., Reacher realizes that this is no ordinary investigation: the powers-that-be don’t want to uncover the truth, and in fact are set on burying it. Reacher, though a U.S. Army officer, holds his ultimate allegiance to the truth, which puts him in direct conflict with his superior, among others. It is the manner in which the book plays out that puts Reacher on the road --- figuratively and literally --- with which Child’s legions of readers are familiar.
Child does amazing things with THE AFFAIR. Fans know that Reacher survives the conclusion of the story, given all that has passed in the previous installments of the series. Yet Child manages to instill more suspense than readers would think imaginable. He builds his story slowly but methodically, eschewing explosions, martial arts and derring-do for the first quarter of the novel while never sacrificing the pacing of the narrative. The core of the story, though, is the murder mystery at hand, and it is there that THE AFFAIR really shines. In the course of utilizing storytelling methods both deservedly classic and very contemporary, Child introduces new dimensions to Reacher while staying true to the old.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on September 29, 2011