Without Fail, Lee Child

<em class="BookTitle">Without Fail</em>, Lee Child

Jove, 2002 (2003 reprint), 401 pages, C$10.99 mmpb, ISBN 0-515-13528-3

Every Jack Reacher adventure is slightly different, and so it is that Without Fail‘s distinction is to put Reacher in a situation that’s closer to official power than ever before. Having left behind the small Texas towns of Echo Burning, he finds himself on the East coast, hired by the US Secret Service to find ways to assassinate the Vice-President-elect of the United States. Or rather, to find ways in which the VP could be assassinated so that it doesn’t actually happen. Reacher is good at that; in fact, he’s pretty good at anything a thriller requires from a protagonist.

This being said, it’s a bit of a stretch for involve perennial loner/drifter Jack Reacher into the middle of official operations. So Child reaches way back in Reacher’s history to create a link between Reacher, his estranged brother (killed back in Killing Floor, the first book of the series) and the brother’s ex-girlfriend, now in charge of the Vice President’s security details for the US Secret Service. It’s a tenuous connection, but it almost doesn’t qualify as a coincidence unlike a few of the series’ preposterous setups so far.

Fortunately, this weakness soon becomes irrelevant once the action starts. The would-be assassins that are gunning for the vice president are kind enough to call their shots, providing plenty of investigative opportunities for Reacher and the Secret Service. Although the story doesn’t contain quite the number of conceptual twists and turns that other Reacher novels have managed, it does have a surprising development midway through, and manage to turn the initial expectations on their head: As it often happens when Reacher is around, the motivations are often more personal than political, even in assassinating a vice president.

If the twists are muted down, that’s thankfully not the case for the series’ attention to procedural detail: As usual, Reacher knows a lot about everything and a lot of this knowledge proves essential when tracking down suspects, whether it’s penetrating security protection or figuring out how a sensitive message was placed on a desk under constant video surveillance. To those procedural details, Child adds a lot of information regarding the protection of VIPs: The United States Secret Service has a thankless job when it comes to protecting its charges, but the details of how it tries to do so are almost endlessly fascinating.

In Reacher’s world, some things don’t change no matter the adventures, and so he once again finds himself romantically entangled with a female character. What’s slightly different is her connection to Reacher, and the reasons why she falls in love with him. Also slightly different is the fact that Reacher spends a good chunk of Without Fail working with a partner —someone who can actually give him some serious competition in the usual skills required to track down his opponents. What this means for future installments of the series can only be guessed at.

But Without Fail‘s overall success isn’t something left to guesswork: While it won’t stand out from the series as a particularly strong entry (there’s something amusing at the on-the-nose symbolism of the number of suits that Reacher has to wear during the novel), it does play with the formula a bit, and delivers the expected clean prose, strong plotting and tough-guy action we’ve come to expect from Jack Reacher. For those who wishes they could see Reacher in a suit with some official status, it’s a welcome entry, and few fans will be disappointed.

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