Having reviewed Andrew Grant’s debut novel, Even, last month, it seems only natural to review the latest from Grant’s older brother, Lee Child, this month: Gone Tomorrow. Iconic hero Jack Reacher is no stranger to terrorism. He knows all the signs of a potential suicide bomber, a 12-point checklist he memorized courtesy of an Israeli army captain. It is the middle of the night, on a mostly empty subway car, and the woman sitting across from Reacher matches the checklist: overdressed for the weather, hand thrust deeply into her purse, nervous demeanor, pointedly avoiding eye contact. Reacher cautiously approaches her, in hopes of defusing the situation, but the woman does something even Reacher could not have predicted: she pulls a .357-caliber Magnum out of her purse, tucks it below her chin, and squeezes the trigger. The woman, it turns out, had been employed at the Pentagon, senior enough to have access to sensitive files . . . files with classified information about a certain high-profile politician who once served in the elite Army Delta Force, specializing in covert operations in places where U.S. soldiers were distinctly not supposed to be. The plot thickens, and Reacher finds himself at odds with a pair of lethal Afghanis, a crew of Eastern European thugs, the NYPD and a trio of government agents whose work is so secret that they don’t even have to show their badges. Gone Tomorrow, like all the Reacher novels, is a nonstop page-turner, best read in one edge-of-the-seat sitting.
On the run
After the hard-driving Jack Reacher, Phillip Margolin’s protagonist Charlie March seems positively laid-back by comparison. Never one to stand and fight when running is an option, Charlie took his money and ran a dozen years back, one step ahead of the Portland district attorney, who would have loved to indict him for the murder of a wealthy Oregon businessman. Like the title of Margolin’s book, Charlie is a Fugitive living out his days in the sunny People’s Republic of Batanga. All is not sunshine and light for Charlie, however: he has been conducting an illicit affair with the wife of his benefactor, the President-For-Life (rumored to be a practicing cannibal) of the tiny African kleptocracy, and there is a good chance that he has been found out. It is time, once again, to take the money and run. Only there’s no money left. Enter Martha Brice of World News, who is willing to put up $75,000 for the rights to an exclusive interview and book deal with Charlie Marsh. It means that Charlie will have to return to the U.S. and face charges, but all in all, it’s better than whatever awaits him in Batanga (i.e., the sort of torture that makes waterboarding seem like a bubble bath). Stateside once again, Charlie faces the daunting task of proving his innocence, all the while trying to stay out of the clutches of a Batangan hit man. Great pace, clever plot, amusing and sorta sympathetic characters—all followed by a surprise ending. What more can you ask for?
Crisis of conscience
Some kids don’t deliberately set out to torment their parents; it just seems to work out that way. It is a vein that George Pelecanos has mined before, and he returns to it with the sobering The Way Home. Christopher Flynn had one of those hovering-at-the-edge-of-criminality childhoods: alienating his father, making a lame apologist of his mother and ultimately winding up in Pine Ridge, a juvenile detention center. Pine Ridge turned out to be what Chris needed, though; nowadays he seems to have turned his life around. He works for his father’s carpet business, and the men have come to something of an armed truce with regard to the bad years. Then Chris faces an epic moral dilemma: he and his partner Ben discover a briefcase full of cash under the floor where they are installing wall-to-wall. Chris takes the high road: “Zip up the bag and put it back in that hole.” His partner is none too happy with Chris’s decision, but grudgingly accepts it, and they finish the job. Shortly thereafter, things start to get out of hand: first, the owner complains about the carpet job, which, upon inspection by Flynn Senior, is seriously subpar; then Ben (and the money) go missing. And then the guys who put the money there show up, and go ballistic when their cash is nowhere to be found. Somehow, Chris must find the money—and Ben. With The Way Home, Pelecanos has once again crafted a genre-transcending novel of rage and redemption guaranteed to appeal to a broad-spectrum audience.
Mystery of the month
It is with heavy heart that we bid a fond adieu to Inspector Javier Falcon, now onstage in his fourth and final appearance in Robert Wilson’s The Ignorance of Blood. For those of you not familiar with the series, Falcon appeared first in The Blind Man of Seville, which was short-listed for the Golden Dagger Award for best crime novel of 2003. His second novel, published in the U.S. as The Vanished Hands, won a Gumshoe Award, as well as the coveted BookPage Tip of the Ice Pick Award, and I am happy to say that Wilson will join the elite ranks of two-time Ice Pick winners with this latest work. As The Ignorance of Blood opens, Falcon is still on the trail of the terrorist bombers who deftly eluded capture in his last book, The Hidden Assassins. It appears now that the so-called terrorist attack may have been a cover for something even more dastardly, and a seemingly random car crash propels Falcon into the center of an investigation that may extend tendrils into his ongoing case. Apparently he is making some inroads, as he is repeatedly (and anonymously) warned off the case, accompanied by dire personal threats if he does not comply. If he knuckles under, however, the bad guys will not be brought to justice, and more importantly, there will be no story. So Falcon presses onward, until the unthinkable happens: the son of his longtime girlfriend is kidnapped. Clearly this is a punishment, not a ransom vehicle, and Falcon must make the choice as to whether to continue his investigation and possibly sacrifice the life of a child he has come to know and love. The Ignorance of Blood is perhaps the most intensely personal of the Falcon series since The Blind Man of Seville. Falcon is faced with a “Sophie’s Choice” decision; whichever way he goes, his life will be forever changed. In the closing of my last review of a Wilson book, I said: “The Vanished Hands is a book to be read slowly and savored, like a fine Spanish rioja. That said, it is next to impossible to put down.” I would like to modify that just a bit: “The Ignorance of Blood is a book to be read slowly and savored, with a fine Spanish rioja. . . .”