NIGHT SCHOOL BY LEE CHILD
For the 21st Jack Reacher novel, Lee Child has gone back two decades for a prequel featuring his hero as a serving major in the US Military Police, not yet the mysterious drifter and guardian angel of the rest of the bestselling series. All change? Not really – it’s a younger version of the same blank slate character, a tough, tall military man with a talent for street fighting (“he enjoyed it”), highly quotable dialogue and travelling light.
It might be a different world in which analysts are still adjusting to the post-cold War uncertainty, but it’s business as usual for Lee Child. Night School is a knockout thriller that’s as tense, smart and stylish as his best books. And Reacher is just as resourceful and lacking in any trace of self-pity.
Having been awarded a medal following the execution of a pair of Balkan warlords, Reacher discovers his next mission: a training course. In fact, being sent back to school is cover for a top-secret Presidential plan that involves security agencies working together to tackle the inchoate threat from Middle Eastern terrorists. Hindsight hangs heavy as Reacher refers, in the late ’90s, to “new-style bad guys from Yemen and Afghanistan”.
Of course, Reacher relishes a challenge – early on he neutralises a gang of German skinheads. But he’s no macho dinosaur. Reacher’s happy to take orders from Dr Marian Sinclair, of the National Security Council, and he recruits female sergeant Frances Neagley, a familiar character from the books. The pair head to Hamburg on the hunt for an unidentified American setting up a $100 million deal with a terrorist cell in the city. Reacher and the team don’t know what secret weapon he’s selling, but it seems more of a pressing threat than the Millennium Bug.
Writing with a lean prose style, as well as a sense of history, Child has made an art form of the adrenaline-filled page-turner. Night School is an intricate study of uneasy cooperation between US and German authorities following decades of American military presence, which draws a bunch of neo-nazi goons into the plot. The procedural element is just as skilful, and the tense pursuit across the city involves several near misses.
While many thrillers can deflate with a tidy resolution, Child concludes with a stark moral question. Reassuringly, his hero remains something of a mystery – this isn’t an origins story that attempts to explain him. It turns out the 21st novel in the series is also the perfect place for new readers to meet Jack Reacher
“A knockout thriller as tense, smart and stylish as his best books”