After a brief sojourn into Jack Reacher's past, Lee Child returns to the present day with his latest Reacher novel, A Wanted Man. Thankfully, he maintains the quality of The AffairTHE AFFAIR while continuing Reacher's quest to reach Virginia and the disembodied voice that so entranced him when he was stranded in South Dakota a couple of books ago. This novel keeps the reader guessing until its surprising conclusion, making it a very hard book to put down. I finished it in under 24 hours, something that I rarely do. This one's worth it.
Fresh from his experiences in Nebraska, Jack Reacher is hitchhiking his way to Virginia. A car stops, the two men and a woman inside apparently debating whether or not to pick up this drifter with a broken nose. They finally seem to reach an agreement, and Jack gets in. Thus begins a harrowing journey across the state of Iowa as the true nature of Reacher's new companions becomes apparent. Police roadblocks won’t stop them, and FBI Agent Julia Sorenson is trailing them the entire way. Just what is the story behind the trio, and why is the FBI after them? Reacher's about to find out, and the answer may put an end to thoughts of his dream Virginia meeting.
Child has definitely kept the continuity tight in the last three Reacher novels, all of which take place in the span of a month or so. He still has the broken nose that he earned in Worth Dying For, and it becomes a major plot point in A Wanted Man. That's one of the intriguing things about the Reacher series: unlike many other character-based series, this one appears to have an ongoing arc that keeps the reader coming back for more.
Child's prose is again wonderfully tight and sparse. It's always interesting to see Reacher in action, figuring things out with his quick mind or just taking in the situation and setting that he's in, adding and discarding appropriate actions until he knows just what he needs to do. Child writes these scenes with an immediacy that puts the reader right in Jack's head. The rest of the book is also written that way, with short, punchy chapters that wreak havoc with the "I have to put this down and go to bed" crowd who end up having to read the next short chapter.
A Wanted Man also features some beautifully-written characters. Sorenson is one of the most three-dimensional characters I've seen Child write, outside of Reacher himself. She's a no-nonsense figure, and while there is some attraction between her and Reacher, it doesn't dominate their relationship and need to get the job done. I even liked small-town Nebraska sheriff Victor Goodman, who’s in way over his head when an apparent murder escalates into something so much more. He makes mistakes as he's overwhelmed, but he brings a sense of decency to the whole procedure, everything done to the best of his ability. There’s just so much more going on than what he can handle.
The many twists and turns in A Wanted Man will make the reader's head spin, but in a good way. None of them come out of left field or are totally unbelievable, even down to the identity of one of the characters in the car. They are surprising but upon looking back, they make sense. Once the novel reaches its climax, it becomes an action-fest, but even then Child keeps everything going. The author isn’t afraid to kill somebody off, which keeps the danger real.
Only a couple of problems mar an otherwise excellent book, and I admit that one of them is almost an extreme nitpick: Child obviously doesn't go to McDonald's often, or at least not for breakfast. Unlike many other chains (like A&W), they do not serve burgers during breakfast time.
The other problem is a bit harder to dismiss, though the book is so well-written and immersive that one can look past it. The timeline of events, the traveling by car, doesn't seem to add up to the day/night cycle. I've driven across Iowa before (it's my home state), so I know how long it takes to go various places. The story begins shortly after midnight. There’s a lot of driving, and they get as far down as Kansas, which just doesn't feel right. It's possible that I'm getting the timing confused and things take longer to happen than Child seems to indicate, but it feels off throughout the entire novel.
Also, of course, one has to question the wisdom of expecting anybody to pick you up on the side of the road, especially a 6'5" man with a broken nose, after midnight on a lonely interstate. Maybe it does happen, though.
A Wanted Man will keep you reading into the dead of night until you put it down and demand to know when Child will be releasing the next one. Virginia awaits!