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“The Midnight Line.' [Delacorte Press]

Book Notes: Another satisfying serving of Jack Reacher

“The Midnight Line” By Lee Child. Delacorte Press, New York, 2017. 368 pages. $28.99

Jack Reacher is having a bad day when we meet up with him in Lee Child’s 23rd Reacher thriller, “The Midnight Line,” and that’s not a good thing. At 6-foot-6 and carrying 250 pounds of muscle and bone, Big Foot, a nickname he picks up in this satisfying novel, is a lethal weapon. Best not get Reacher too riled up.

But Reacher is cranky. A woman he liked has moved on. It’s not the first time, and perhaps that’s part of the problem. There are consequences to pay for the unfettered life he chose after leaving the Army as a major and member of the elite 110th Military Police Special Investigation Unit.

As is his habit, Reacher boards a bus with the intent of taking it to its end point — this time somewhere in the West. While on a comfort stop, he spots a woman’s West Point class ring in a pawn shop. He is a graduate of West Point and finds the idea of a pawned West Point class ring curious. He buys it and decides to track the provenance of what is usually too cherished a memento to wind up pawned. A fellow soldier could be in trouble.

For many years and many novels, Reacher (portrayed in cinema by Tom Cruise) has crisscrossed the country. Each time he does, he finds trouble and readers happily tag along to see what happens. In “The Midnight Line,” he tells an inquisitive general at West Point, “I get uneasy. I can’t stay in one place.” When the general presses him further, Reacher explains, “I fought for freedom. This is what freedom looks like.” That his lovers find his behavior verging on pathological is too bad but it can’t be helped.

Reacher isn’t just sinew and heft. He’s smart and strategic. We know he’s always noodling the problem, but we don’t know what he’s up to till he does it. Another thing — Reacher noodles till the very last minute. That’s part of Lee Child’s success. Reacher keeps us guessing.

The trail of the pawned ring brings Reacher into contact with a likable, low-key private detective, Bramall. Bramall, a retired FBI agent, works for a client he calls Mrs. Mackenzie, who’s trying to locate her missing twin sister, Serena Rose Sanderson. The ring in Reacher’s possession is inscribed: SRS. The three join forces to find Sanderson, who served five tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. Known as a strong, brave leader, Sanderson is, as Reacher suspected, in a lot of trouble and may be keeping a very low profile somewhere in the wilds of Wyoming. Further, she may have had a connection with another decorated soldier found dead and mauled by a bear in the same region Sanderson is likely inhabiting. Together the makeshift team solves problems, gets to know each other and charms readers.

We read Jack Reacher thrillers for their strong female characters, their timely plots, but also for another peek at Reacher. His persona is as lean, pointed and focused as the dialogue. We always want more. Child is a master plotter and he’s also a no-frills writer with occasional bursts of description. For example: Reacher’s left fist is “the size of a supermarket chicken” and he has “long thick fingers with knuckles like walnuts.” One female detective who’s onto Reacher says, “I saw him, boss. You could put him in a zoo.” Thank goodness he’s one of the good guys.

But we also read for the bad guys who Reacher pursues with a relentless and nearly feral intensity. Bad guys pay dearly in the mammoth hands of Jack Reacher.

Finally, readers appreciate the jargon-y but decipherable shop talk that sounds smart and collaborative. When Reacher is doing the talking, his deductive skills, his determination and the unfurling of the plan of attack are imbued with a surreal power we find continually alluring.

— Rae Padilla Francoeur can be reached at rae@raefrancoeur.com.

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