Monday, October 15, 2012

'A Wanted Man' Gets You In Its Grasp -- Book Review

Book Review

A Wanted Man
a Jack Reacher novel
by Lee Child

A Wanted Man isn’t a great book.

It’s certainly quite far from being fine literature and I can’t really say that the story is truly compelling.

I wouldn’t even call it a first-class thriller, even in the not always exalted realm of page turners. There was a twist midway through that I thought was rather suspect, and the outcome isn’t particularly surprising (especially for anyone who’s read any of Lee Child’s novels revolving around Jack Reacher).

But it is a great read.

Before having my crack at a reserve copy from the Skokie Public Library, I was surprised at how many scathing user reviews I was seeing on Amazon, with several 1-star slams coming from readers claiming to have been longtime fans of the Reacher series.

If such reviews came from legitimately dismayed Reacher Creatures, I don’t understand what they were expecting nor why they were so grievously disappointed. Having read all 16 of Lee Child’s previous thrillers featuring Jack Reacher, an ex-military policeman turned nomadic superhero-of-sorts, sure, some are a bit better than others. And though I’d be hard pressed to recall any specifics of the previous books, all devoured well within a week, I don’t think I’d put A Wanted Man in the very upper echelon.

But at the very least, it accomplished what Child’s past works—like those by my other favorite thriller writer of recent years, Harlan Coben—have: it made me want to read it at any moment I had time to spare.

One night, rather than go out to a play I was thinking of seeing, I opted to stay in and read A Wanted Man. Likewise on other evenings, instead of watching a DVD that was due back to the library the next day or paying close attention to a baseball playoff game, I chose to read the book because I acutely wanted to find out what would happen next and how it would end.

I can’t say I learned a whole lot, although through Reacher, Child always includes some interesting societal insights, trivial tidbits and an occasional mindbender (such as how you can easily speak for a full minute while knowingly not saying a word that includes the letter “a”).

And though I could provide a minor synopsis of the plot, it doesn’t really matter except to say that A Wanted Man finds Reacher hitchhiking through the Plains states and getting entwined in some nefarious doings for which he has to come to the rescue.

 As I mentioned above, Child employs a twist about halfway through that seemingly comes out of nowhere, but it doesn’t really derail things so much as to simplify them.

At this point, all of Child’s books go straight to #1 on the New York Times Best Sellers list, and A Wanted Man is no exception. But the series is primed to get even more exposure when the first film adaptation, titled Jack Reacher and starring Tom Cruise in the title role (despite Reacher being 6’5" on paper), is released near Christmas.

The movie is based on 2005’s One Shot; that’s a really good one (as my friend Dave recently confirmed) and it’s not as if the Reacher series needs to be read in order. So while, IMHO, there’s no reason to avoid A Wanted Man if you’re a fan of the Jack Reacher series, if you can’t get it at your library and/or prefer waiting for the paperback, start with One Shot, or Killing Floor (the first book to be released) or The Affair (the book preceding A Wanted Man, now in paperback and set earlier than any previous Reacher story).

But if you are a Reacher devotee, puzzled perhaps by the plethora of poor reviews on Amazon, I say ignore them. It may not be a masterpiece, it may not be a great book, but in library parlance, A Wanted Man is well-worth checking out.

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