Gone Tomorrow, Lee Child

Delacorte, 2009, 421 pages, C$32.00 hc, ISBN 978-0-385-34057-1

Jack Reacher has a knack for finding himself in plot-rich situations, and his thirteenth adventure Gone Tomorrow is no exception to the rule. As usual, Lee Child confronts the coincidence-driven nature of his premises head-on, from the very first page. Reacher is back in New York, late at night, in a quasi-deserted subway train. Except that something is wrong: the woman in front of him shows clear signs that she’s a suicide bomber. As Reacher ticks off his mental checklist of suicide bomber traits, everything makes sense except for the timing. Why conduct a suicide mission late at night?

So Reacher gets up and confronts the woman. The results of his action will surprise even him. Not that he stays confounded for long: Once again, he has stumbled into a puzzle box of surprises and twists and revelations, and he’s the best man to get to the bottom of it.

This time, his enemies are a bit stronger than usual: It turns out that there is a terrorist connection to the whole business, not to mention a presidential hopeful. When that happens, official US forces don’t stop to make subtle distinctions between allies and enemy combatants, and Reacher soon finds himself targeted by elements of his own government. The left-leaning political content that bubbled up in Nothing to Lose is present here in a different way: Reacher’s struggles against the new half-corporate security apparatus show the way in which the thriller game is still evolving, and which contemporary threads can be used by authors to put their heroes in ever more complex jeopardy.

Along the way, Reacher does get to go on a rampage of sorts through New York, beating up opponents who don’t consider him a threat, or enough of a threat. Unsurprisingly, his most formidable adversaries end up being those who look least threatening. Reacher doesn’t often end up in the hospital, but there are exceptions to most rules.

Gone Tomorrow (the title can be found in-text as part of dialogue referring, bitterly, to Reacher’s lack of roots) features political maneuvering, New York lore and long-hidden military secrets dating back to Reacher’s early days in the military. The twists and turns are among the series’ best: It takes a while before the true plot is revealed, and there are plenty of surprises along the way. And yet… Child does foreshadowing and red herrings effectively, which is partly why latter plot development don’t seem as outlandish as they would have seemed if presented cold.

As with the last few novels in the series, there are references to Reacher getting old: His old contacts aren’t working as reliably as they should, his technological know-how is primitive, and even the people in the US Government don’t think much of Reacher’s “prehistoric” history with Uncle Sam. One of the most damning aspects of the series’s structure is that Reacher seldom gains new friends and contacts along the way: Since the goal is to have all volumes read independently, Child can seldom point back meaningfully to Reacher’s previous adventures. In this case, readers could have expected Reacher’s US Secret Service adventures in Without Fail to have been mentioned whenever he’s contacting a high-level politician, but that’s not the case. This is a frustrating tension at play, in the middle of such well-constructed novels, and it’s getting harder to ignore.

But it’s not difficult to avoid thinking about these things in the middle of any Lee Child novel: His crisp, detailed and fluid writing is as good as ever, and the plotting of Gone Tomorrow takes us back to the good days of One Shot in giving a good time to seasoned thriller readers trying to figure out the true plot of the story. Reacher’s problems with the shadow US intelligence apparatus are a fresh wrinkle on old plot drivers. None of Child’s increasing fans will be disappointed by this one, and he may pick up a few along the way.

As for me, this thirteenth Reacher Novel marks the end of my monthly Lee Child Reading Project: I have now read the entire series, switching like a real fan from paperbacks to hardcovers along the way. The results are unarguable: Child may be the best pure-thriller series writer on the market today.

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