After reading “The Hard Way”, the tenth book in the series, I was pretty much ready to walk away from Jack Reacher, but I’d already bought “Bad Luck and Trouble” so I decided to give it a chance and it did enough to convince me to keep reading.
The book benefits from being about a reunion of Jack Reacher’s old Army Special Investigations unit and so isn’t so focused on Reacher as a giant, aimless, killing machine.
The plot is stronger than usual. It would work as a stand-alone thriller but is stronger for being able to leverage Reacher’s past. Some of Reacher’s old team have disappeared. The rest assemble to rescue their friends or take revenge or both. The plot twists and turns, changing the reasons for the disappearances and the motivation and identities of the bad guys.
Unusually, Reacher shows some capacity for introspection in this novel, comparing his life to those of his former colleagues and asking himself if his drifter lifestyle is bravely independent or just a failure to thrive.
It seems everyone who was in the Special Investigations Unit looks back on the experience as a high-point in their lives. Their motto had been “No one messes with the Special Investigators”. They had enjoyed the power, the team spirit and the license to find and to punish.
Their current lives can seem pale by comparison. As the investigation goes on, it’s also clear that they are no longer as young, or as fast as they were in their youth. Yet they still feel licensed to punish, and punish they do. I think this is the first book where I’ve seen Reacher act as executioner rather than as killer. Twice in this book, he kills men who are not a threat to him, executing them because of the sins they have committed. We’re right back at “Echo Burning” where Reacher was characterised as “never having killed a man who didn’t deserve it.”
“Bad Luck and Trouble” is a good, solid thriller, with a page-turning appeal. It also shows some signs that Reacher is growing up.
The only thing that jarred for me was the arithmetic at the end. Reacher and his crew take $65m as spoils of war. A lot of it gets spent on other people but the amount that Reacher is left with seems implausibly small. I would have expected at least $1m. Perhaps Lee Child needs to keep Reacher poor so that he can keep him locked into his increasingly eccentric lifestyle but, given the fuss the book makes about numbers and Reacher’s facility with them, leaving Reacher with so little was very unsatisfying.
So, I’ll read the next Reacher book after all. Who knows, maybe he’ll grow up some more?
If you’d like to know how Lee Child went about writing “Bad Luck and Trouble,” take a look at this interview.
If you’d like to hear an extract from the book, click on the SoundCloud link below.