The Enemy, Lee Child

<em class="BookTitle">The Enemy</em>, Lee Child

Dell, 2004 (2007 reprint), 464 pages, C$10.99 mmpb, ISBN 978-0-440-24101-0

Every Jack Reacher thriller is slightly different, and The Enemy‘s claim to distinction is obvious from the second page: It’s 1990 again, and Reacher is a Military Policeman on duty as the world changes decades. Elsewhere in the world, Germany is tearing down the Berlin Wall, and American forces are chasing Noriega in Panama. But those concerns quickly become secondary to Reacher as he’s put on his first case of the year: The murder of a general in a motel where rooms are rented by the hour.

This looks bad, but it quickly gets worse after Reacher starts digging: The General’s wife is violently killed hours after the death of her husband, and more victims drop dead as the novel advances. Reacher, clearly, has a lot of work to do, which is all very curious since he’s just been transferred to his post. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg, as he discovers that he’s hardly the only MP to have been moved around in the past few days…

As a gimmick, the old prequel is fast becoming a favorite of writers of all stripes. It gives a chance to reset the clock, see the character in classic top shape, and provide cute nods for series fans as they get cameos from series regulars. The Enemy is no exception, but as you may expect from a Lee Child novel, it also has the decency to provide a solid story along the way.

For Reacher fans, The Enemy‘s most compelling aspect is to see Reacher in his element, firmly entrenched within the army, and at a level where his investigative skills can be brought to bear on interesting issues. Life within the US military is completely different from civilian life, and Reacher knows all there is to know about it. He’s in a position of minor power, with an assistant and a lot of leeway on how to do his job. But Reacher is always at his best against obstacles, and the massive reorganization of Military Policemen around the world also means that he’s got a new boss, and that his superior doesn’t seem all that competent. In fact, he pretty much orders Reacher to shut the investigation down, something that does little to stop Reacher. By mid-book, Reacher is essentially acting rogue, trying to pierce together the pieces of the puzzle before running out of time.

But the very-early 1990s are also a tough period for him: His mother isn’t doing so well, and it’s an excuse for Reacher to go visit her in France, along with his brother Joe. Before the end of the novel, Reacher will learn a few troubling things about his own lineage.

As with all Reacher adventures, The Enemy is a gleefully enjoyable mixture of procedural details and structural misdirection. It’s also one of the purest mysteries that Reacher has had to investigate so far: Despite the thrilling tank battle that marks the conclusion of the story, this novel is a straight-up investigation. The ramifications and reasons for the crimes Reacher is investigating go high up the hierarchy of the Army, but the investigation is a mixture of police work, tenacity and pure luck.

It goes without saying that it’s also delivered with some of the cleanest, most compelling prose in the entire thriller genre. Child is a best-selling professional, and The Enemy is a pure delight for fans and neophytes both. While newcomers to the Reacher series will be able to get by, those who have read the rest of the Reacher books will recognize a few familiar names, and there’s a good chance that The Enemy has seeded a few more familiar faces that we’ll see in the next few Reacher adventures.

As always, it’s tough waiting along for the next one; once readers have clued into the fact that Child is among the best, it’s hard not to read them all as quickly as possible.

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