You may find yourself wanting to read A WANTED MAN twice. The first time through, you will read it simply for the joy of another encounter with Jack Reacher, Child’s iconic creation. The (relatively) silent but deadly former Army MP prefers no ties and minimal (if any) contact with his fellow human beings, yet attracts and is drawn to trouble with a force as immutable as gravity. You will want to read it a second time to carefully examine not so much what Child has done as the way he has done it. Through a good portion of the book, he takes the tedium of driving on and across the middle of the United States highway system and transforms it into an act infused with suspense and quiet danger, one where an explosive and deadly ending lies in wait.
"You’ll never drive along a lonesome stretch of six-lane late at night, or past one of its no-name exits, without thinking of A WANTED MAN, Reacher, or what might be waiting at the top of the off-ramp."
A WANTED MAN begins practically where WORTH DYING FOR left off, with Reacher in the middle of a very cold and dark nowhere called Nebraska. He is picked up by a car that is occupied by two men and a woman. They drive, stopping only for gas, food and the like, and talk endlessly. As the four passengers head east into the night, a grisly tableau is unfolding behind them. A gentleman, his veracity as a witness somewhat diminished by inebriation, has observed three men enter a small isolated concrete bunker, but only two of them walk out. The third is subsequently found inside the bunker, the victim of a violent murder. We learn very gradually the connection between what the somewhat impaired witness saw and the two men in the car who picked up Reacher, along with the identity of the woman, where she came from and why.
Reacher makes some assumptions based on what he knows, and the more he learns, the more those assumptions change. Of course he is unaware of what has gone before, or what is occurring even as the increasingly uneasy quartet drives into the promise of the day’s new dawn. Meanwhile, the discovery of that body has set off a chain reaction that involves a full alphabet soup of government agencies, including the FBI and CIA, as well as another set or two of eyes that are from the more secretive nether regions of the State Department.
Someone eventually catches up with Reacher, though not with the other three passengers, in a classic tableau that you can only truly appreciate if you’ve dealt extensively with night clerks in hotels just east of nowhere. By this time, Reacher is compelled to jump in, particularly when what has happened --- and what subsequently happens --- officially turns into one of those “nothing to see here, move along” situations. And when Reacher is ultimately taken into custody to keep him from muddying up the works, he really becomes interested.
Reacher, forming an unlikely and somewhat uneasy alliance with a Federal law enforcement officer, slowly but surely follows a trail based on two-thirds evidence and one-third intuition that, in turn, results in semi-technophobe Reacher being dragged kicking and screaming into this century. At the end of the trail is a major operation, hidden in plain view, that gives Reacher the opportunity to disrupt a world-wide terrorist network, if he can survive the encounter. The odds, however, are stacked against him. In spades.
If you thought that Child had rung all of the action out of Nebraska and its contiguous states that he could, then think again. You’ll never drive along a lonesome stretch of six-lane late at night, or past one of its no-name exits, without thinking of A WANTED MAN, Reacher, or what might be waiting at the top of the off-ramp.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on September 13, 2012