Personal by Lee Child

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Personal by Lee Child

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Category: Thrillers
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Lesley Mason
Reviewed by Lesley Mason
Summary: Classic thriller writing from the one of the best on the block. Child’s hero Jack Reacher is called in to track down a sniper who may be on a personal crusade or may just be out to turn the whole world upside down by taking out a world leader in the most public way possible.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 496 Date: April 2015
Publisher: Bantam
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0857502667

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If you've never read a Lee Child novel but have seen the trailers for a film starring Tom Cruise… can I seriously suggest you read at least one of the books before seeing the film. To be fair, I haven't seen the film and Cruise might do a decent job of whatever script they've given him… but Jack Reacher he isn't.

No offence, Mr Cruise, (or indeed Mr Walsh) but it's like asking Bradley Walsh to play James Bond. Just wrong on every single level.

Reacher for those who haven't come across this all-American hard-done-by hero, created by a Brit from Coventry is ex-US-military police. His official bio reads:

Name: Jack Reacher
Born : October 29
Measurements: 6'5", 220-250 lbs., 50" chest
Hair : Dirty-blond
Eyes : Ice Blue
Clothing: 3XLT coat, 95 cm. pants' inseam

You get my point?

Moving on… Personal is the 19th Reacher outing. Typically for thrillers you don't have to have read any of the others to thoroughly enjoy this one. And typically for the best thriller writers having read this one, you'll want to go back to the one before or the very beginning or somewhere in the middle. It won't matter. But you will want more.

In Paris, someone has taken a shot at the French president. From a long distance away. Sniper-fire. He didn't miss.

Fortunately for the president, things have moved on since the Day of the Jackal and the bullet-proof glass did its job: provided the necessary few seconds for the human security teams to do theirs.

There are a limited number of people in the world that could have taken that shot, and all of the major intelligence agencies are hoping and praying and checking that it isn't their own local disgruntled good-guy-gone-bad. Whoever it is has to be stopped. It's not clear that the French president is a specific target or just a high-enough-profile world leader to have the desired effect. Or maybe this was just an audition?

There's an EU conference coming up. Then the G8. And then the G20.

That's a lot of high-profile world leaders doing very public things, like making speeches, wandering around remote gardens doing bilateral deals and getting-to-know-you stuff, standing on patios having photos taken.

Reacher's out on his own these days, the military career long gone. He has a truly nomadic lifestyle that's part personality-driven, part best-way-to-stay-alive. But he owes an old mate a favour, that means an advert in the Army Times will be sufficient for him to make contact, to not question being driven for miles and invited onto a Lear Jet and flown to a USAF base in the middle of nowhere (as they tend to be).

Briefed on the situation, Reacher is very clear who the sniper is. Knott is someone Reacher put away a long time ago. He's now out. And very quickly Reacher's on his trail… and just as quickly it's evident that this might have nothing to do with world leaders at all, no matter what the shadowy intelligence guys think.

It would be too boring to have our man on the right side of the law, wouldn't it? So there are reasons why he needs to stay outside of it – an 'unacknowledged asset' in the terminology. Turns out he might not be the only one.

From Paris to London, in the company of the Russians, the Brits, and (of all people) the Romford Boys… there's a killer to catch. At least one.

Meanwhile there are also scores to be settled. Definitely more than one. This isn't a vendetta tale, it’s a multiplicity of them, and it's overlain with enough political intrigue and possibility to make you wonder whose side anyone is on and whether, finally, Reacher might just have (a) got it wrong or (b) met his match. Or both.

Classic Child writing. Vicious. Traces of black humour that never get in the way. Human frailty that does, but only to the extent that it naturally would have to, and never enough for you to lose faith in the good guys (always assuming you can work out who they are).

It's fast, it twists, it's got the requisite amount of pure gut-wrenching violence.

I'm sure I shouldn't love these books quite as much as I do.

And so… it doesn't feel right to raise a niggle, but I'm going to. Question: doesn't Lee Child ever watch American TV? Don't Americans ever watch UK series? At home we regularly comment on how much Brit-speak is creeping in to things like NCIS, and CSI and Law and Order, House, etc etc. It might be because there are so many British actors or some of these shows these days. But it does seem to me, that whilst our US cousins may still use their peculiar terms for things, they do actually understand ours. So I found it strange that the most basic of terms had to be explained.

What do I know? I just can't help thinking that if I were an American I'd feel just a tad patronised.

But then again I have to forgive him, because it's all balanced by a wonderfully descriptive bent when he slows things down: the engine started, eventually, after a bunch of popping and churning and then it idled, wet and lumpy. The transmission was slower than the postal service. She rattled the selector into reverse, and all the mechanical parts inside called the roll and counted a quorum and set about deciding what to do. Which required a lengthy debate apparently, because it was whole seconds before the truck lurched backwards.

That kind of passage: rare, but finely judged in both purpose and execution is what lifts Child above 'genre' and into 'classic thriller'. People will be reading these books for a long time to come.

That: and an equally finely judged take on the political situation at any point in time, which anchors the horrible fantasy firmly in the no less worrying reality of today.

If you enjoyed this, then obviously the rest of the Reacher series is a must… Never Go Back for instance, and of course the current master of the genre has to be Harlan Coben Tell No One being as good a place as any to start with him.

Lee Child's Jack Reacher Novels in Chronological Order

Booklists.jpg Personal by Lee Child is in the Top Ten Thrillers of 2015.

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