I’ve just finished listening to Lee Child’s new Jack Reacher novel, Past Tense, and am quite disappointed. I’ve been a Reacher fan since Child began writing these stories and never disappointed – until now. This one is as dull as a box of rocks. The highest praise I can proffer is that Scott Brick has replaced Dick Hill as the voiceover artist.
I imagine it’s tough to be put on a writing production schedule, as most publishers do these days with their most successful authors. No matter how much I write, or how much I enjoy it, I would never succumb to becoming a slave to the book mill. It’s not about art; it’s all about money. No way is that worth it for me.
So what’s wrong with Past Tense? First and most important, it’s completely forgettable. By that I mean I listened to it ten days ago and cannot remember the plot, like I do with many of his earlier Reacher novels: the loss of his brother, saving the female officer he used to work with, South Dakota in the dead of winter, going between Hope and Despair. In Past Tense, I do recall Reacher getting into a couple of altercations. I recall he has contact with a couple of women, but doesn’t sleep with either of them. And I recall a high degree of excruciating detail, sans the sound and fury and signifying nothing. It’s all filler.
Everything has a beginning and an end. Other popular crime/thriller/mystery novelists, favorites of mine like John Sandford and Michael Connelly, move on with new characters and new scenarios. While Sandford still writes Lucas Davenport novels, he also created another memorable character in Virgil Flowers. Connelly created the memorable Detective Harry (Hieronymus) Bosch, but then conjured up a half-brother attorney named Mickey Haller.
This has been true of most if not all great mystery writers, certainly including Agatha Christie and her frequent but not exclusive lead character, Hercule Poirot, of whom she commented was “insufferable,” and went on to write Miss Marple mysteries for relief.
In addition to treating readers to new characters and plots, branching out also keeps the writer’s imagination active, vibrant, alive. And so, Lee Child, perhaps it’s time for you to apply your formidable writing skills to a new character? By now, most of Jack Reacher’s signature quirks and leitmotifs are not just well known to readers, but have become a yawn.