Personal: A Jack Reacher Novel
It is both difficult and easy to believe that PERSONAL is the 19th book in Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series. Reacher achieved iconic status at some point in the remote past, so much so that Child could probably write a new installment annually by rote. He instead continues to change things up, combining the very familiar aspects of Reacher’s character with the unknown elements of his past and the unpredictability of his present. The result is a series that never disappoints and continues to exceed its own standards with each new volume.
PERSONAL is told from Reacher’s viewpoint in the first person, which, at least to my memory, is rare for this series. The story begins with Reacher in Seattle, a stopping point between A and the eternal Point B. He is contacted by his old boss and whisked across the country for a briefing that touches upon his past. It seems that the President of France recently had been making a speech when a sniper took a long-range shot at him. The only thing saving his life was a new type of security glass that stopped the high-powered bullet. The powers-that-be quickly establish that there are only four people in the world capable of making such a shot.
"The major strength of PERSONAL is the mystery at the heart of the story, which is both explicit and implicit.... If you have never had the pleasure of reading a Reacher novel, PERSONAL is an excellent place to start."
One of them, it develops, has a history with Reacher. When Reacher was an MP, he investigated the murder of a sergeant outside of a bar. He was able to identify the murderer, an expert sniper named John Kott, with more loose screws than Home Depot. Kott was tried and convicted of murder and sentenced to 15 years in prison. He was released a year early and had been living his life quietly in rural Arkansas when he suddenly dropped off the radar. The government believes that he may be setting up for an even bigger target at the G-8 summit to be held in London.
Reacher, as part of his due diligence, goes to the man’s last-known address and finds evidence that Kott 1) has been practicing his shooting skills, and 2) has not forgotten Reacher, not for a moment. From there, Reacher spends almost the entirety of the remainder of the book as a world-beater, which constitutes another change of pace for the series. He and a rookie CIA analyst, the wonderfully named Casey Nice, travel first to Paris to investigate the initial attempt and then to London, where a combination of world politics and the local underworld makes Reacher’s job --- preventing the assassination of one or more prominent government leaders by a master sharpshooter --- an almost impossible task.
The major strength of PERSONAL is the mystery at the heart of the story, which is both explicit and implicit. The explicit portion deals with the issue of where the sniper will be shooting from and his whereabouts up until the time he attempts to carry out his mission. The implicit part is less tangible, though. Something about the entire scenario is bothering Reacher. It takes him a while to get it, but that isn’t the point. He discerns that there are number of seemingly unrelated points of information that don’t make sense within the overall picture. When he figures things out, the full nature and extent of what he discovers is still unreeling itself until the end of the book. And while PERSONAL is complete in itself, it sets up a plot point to be resolved in the future, hopefully sooner rather than later.
As one has come to expect from Child’s past performances, his latest book almost always contains some of his best writing, and PERSONAL is no exception. It includes, among other things, one of the best nicknames (one of the only nicknames) to have been bestowed on Reacher in recent memory, one that is immediately memorable and appropriate on a number of different levels. The reader is also given a travelogue of sorts of Paris and London, two cities with which Child is intimately acquainted and of which he is obviously fond. Best of all, it contains a few more breadcrumbs --- including a somewhat poignant one --- that reveal the trail leading to Reacher’s background, both (relatively) recent and remote. The apple, indeed, does not fall far from the tree.
If you have never had the pleasure of reading a Reacher novel, PERSONAL is an excellent place to start.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on September 2, 2014