NEVER GO BACK is a Jack Reacher book worth waiting for. It ends a long chapter in the Reacher saga that has stretched across five books --- beginning with 2010’s 61 HOURS --- a few thousand miles, and a lot of detours. Major Susan Turner was an interesting voice over the phone in 61 HOURS. His curiosity (among other things) aroused, and with nothing else to do, Reacher decided to traverse the long distance between his Point A du jour in South Dakota and her Point B in Washington, D.C. to see if his mental image of the person with the voice matches the reality. After miles of intriguing and deadly mishaps and delays, Reacher finally reaches his destination in NEVER GO BACK, only to find himself in a “so-near, so-far” situation.
"Reacher’s survival skill set, which involves plenty of the physical and even more of the cerebral, is in full bloom here.... [I]t is the journey that makes NEVER GO BACK classic Reacher."
At least that is how Lee Child begins the book, with Reacher going literally from the frying pan into the fire as he discovers that his status with his former employer, the Army, isn’t quite “former” and that, worse, he is in some fairly serious trouble as the result of some accusations that reach way back into his past and to the other side of the country. Reacher is actually in trouble on two counts. He is very much a person of interest with regard to the murder of a Los Angeles gangbanger some 16 years previously. Reacher encountered the man during the course of an undercover operation that he was part of while serving in the Army, but didn’t kill him. He thought about it, but didn’t actually do it. Reacher has been known to take people off the board, but he’s innocent of this one. The other accusation...well, once upon a time, Reacher was stationed in Korea.
Since this is a no-spoiler zone, I won’t tell you the second crime against the military with which Reacher has been charged, but it actually causes him more concern than the first. He has no recollection at all of doing what he is accused of in Korea, and the end result is major news to him. Instead of meeting Turner, Reacher finds himself with lawyers of varying degrees of competency. As for Turner, she is the brig herself, not all that far from Reacher, and has left word that she has absolutely no interest in seeing him. Reacher has never been one to sit still for very long, and in due course, he and Turner are free and on the run from not only their uncle but also a group that seems to be running a lethal black op against them. Of course, not everyone along the way is friendly, either, as the very much wanted pair decide that the answers to at least some of their questions and the resolution to at least some of their problems exist in Los Angeles.
Meanwhile, their movements are being shadowed by a seemingly omnipresent pair who refer to themselves as Romeo and Juliet, and are responsible for getting Reacher and Turner into all of this trouble to begin with. The question is “why,” and the answer is an interesting one as each step toward the resolution of Reacher’s and Turner’s problems brings them closer to the people behind the curtain.
If NEVER GO BACK isn’t the best book in the Reacher canon, it’s close enough to the top of the list that you won’t notice. Reacher’s survival skill set, which involves plenty of the physical and even more of the cerebral, is in full bloom here. While a great deal of it falls into the “boys and girls, don’t try this at home” area, it is fascinating to watch Reacher engage in full-on broken-field running. His encounter in Los Angeles with an interesting character (who may or may not be who Reacher thinks he or she is) is additionally worth reading the book all by itself. And while there has been some grousing here and there about the motivations, or lack thereof, of “Romeo and Juliet,” it should be noted that it’s rarely the big things that trip up people who operate at high levels; it’s the lesser things that ultimately reveal a multitude of other and greater sins. Regardless, it is the journey that makes NEVER GO BACK classic Reacher.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on September 6, 2013