“Echo Burning – Jack Reacher #5” by Lee Child – first-rate, action-packed thriller with a twisty plot and a strong sense of place.

echo burning“Echo Burning” has Jack Reacher bouncing aimlessly around Texas, where his “Mess with me and you get what you get” attitude is in danger of getting him some jail time, when a beautiful, well-dressed latino woman in a posh car stops to give him a life, sells him her tale of woe and asks him to kill her abusive husband. Reacher says no but can’t quite bring himself to walk away.

I liked the idea that there was something Reacher would say no to. He knows himself well enough to realize that he’s saying no not because the idea of killing a bad man bothers him but because he lacks the personal involvement he needs before he can unleash his righteous anger. Reacher sees himself as a hot-headed killer, not a cold-blooded one.

The plot of “Echo Burning” has more mystery to it than some of the Reacher books. It seems everyone Reacher meets lies to him. Some much so that he begins to doubt his own judgement. Some of the lies are so beautifully told that I shared Reacher’s inability to distinguish truth from deception. This effect was added to by the fact that the good guys are less good and the bad guys less bad than in the typical Jack Reacher novel. Reach is invited to follow in the footsteps of a famous Texas lawman, Clay Allison, who “ never killed a man that did not need killing” but to do that, he’d first have to figure out who deserves to die.

Lee Child turns up the heat by having a parallel story about a killing crew being brough to Texas to take out specific targets. As the reader, you know these stories are connected but making the connection gives you something else to puzzle over.

The deception in the book shows how vulnerable Reacher’s “don’t mess with me or mine” code makes him to being turned into a weapon targeted by someone else’s agenda. At times, Reacher seems border-line sane in this novel. He’s rational but his view of what constitutes a normal reaction to a threat and his disregard for the law is so far out of line that is seems pathological.

In “Echo Burning” Lee Child makes Texas itself a character in his story. I’ve only been to Texas a few times, and only to the big cities on business, but Lee Child’s description of the State matched my memory: a mix of heat and humidity that means you can sweat through your clothes stepping from air-conditioned car to air-conditioned lobby, a distance between places that means people think nothing of driving an hour to get to a restaurant, huge skies and endless, deserted roads.

Lee Child gives a very unforgiving view of the Texas legal system as being on the side of the rich and powerful. He also brings anti-latino racism into sharp focus.

My favourite character in the book was Ellie, an earnest and brave six and a half year old little girl who is impossible not to root for.

If you’d like to hear an extract from “Echo Burning”, click on the SoundCloud link below:

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