When this book first came out, in the UK, it was called “The Visitor”, which makes a whole lot of sense to me: it links to the plot, it’s ambiguous about the nature and identity of the visitor and it’s easy to remember. Then some editor in the US decided that it sounded too much like Science Fiction and came up with “Running Blind”. I can’t see any relevance to the plot and it’s instantly forgettable but perhaps that’s why editors don’t get to write novels.
Four things dominated this novel for me: a well thought through puzzle-plot, skilfully revealed, piece by grim piece; the malicious misogyny of the killings, Child’s contempt for the FBI and the satisfaction I felt when the increasingly eccentric Reacher finally gets a reality-check.
The Reacher reality-check comes at the beginning of the novel when Reacher’s impromptu vigilante intervention in a protection racket gets him entangled with the local police and the FBI. In any sane world, Reacher would have finished this encounter either in prison or in a psych ward or both. Reacher sees himself as outside the law. He feels entitled to do violence in whatever he sees as a good cause. He only seems fully engaged with the people around him when he is causing mayhem. This is what makes him such a compelling character in a thriller. It’s also what would get put locked up in real life. Of course, in the novel, Reacher is rescued by his lawyer girl-friend and cuts a deal that sets up the rest of the novel.
Still, I don’t read Reacher for insights into real life. I read him because the plots are ingenious, because I enjoy his amoral aggression in the cause of right (usually one or more women who need to be rescued or revenged) and because, at least some of the time, I wish there really was a Reacher or two out there making things right.
In this novel, the FBI are depicted as sleazy (a female agent displaying herself to keep Reacher “in hand”), incompetent (profiling techniques that are fundamentally flawed) and more interested in taking care of their own than in getting the job done. As usual, it’s lucky for them that Reacher is along to do their job for them.
The puzzle-plot in this one is truly ingenious. No, I’m not going to tell you what it is. I’ve seldom read a serial killer book where it was so hard to figure out HOW the killing was done. Even when Reacher helps the FBI put most of the pieces together, the answer still isn’t clear. For me, this is a real strength in a thriller.
The women being killed in this book have all already been betrayed and abused by men in positions of power while they served in the Army. I was surprised and pleased to see that Child took the time to make at least some of these women real and help see the damage that had been done to them and the lives they were rebuilding. Of course this makes their deaths more poignant but it makes the manner of their deaths truly monstrous.
The prose in this novel isn’t go to win any prizes. It often reads more like directions to an actor in a TV script: “He did this. Then he did that. Then he moved to the right. Then he sat down.” but somehow the sparse style, written in the third-person, keeps Reacher an enigma.
By the end of the novel, Reacher has nothing left but his folding toothbrush and a desire to be somewhere else. This makes him the perfect catalyst for the next novel where a smart, violent, emotionally unavailable man is needed to thwart evil-doers. I wonder if it also makes him an archetype for a male hunger for a particular type of freedom, based on detached competency and uncompromised integrity?
If you’d like to hear an extract from “The Visitor” AKA “Running Blind”, click on the SoundCloud link below: