Blue Moon: A Jack Reacher Novel
Russian hackers are central to the plot in Lee Child’s latest Jack Reacher book. Is this more “fake news”? Well, novels are, by definition, fake (though fiction is the better term). Yet as the adage goes, if you want the truth, read fiction.
Blue Moon is the 24th Jack Reacher suspense novel. Like all its predecessors, it will shoot to the New York Times (and other) bestseller, top 10 fiction books. A great many of these were #1.
In Blue Moon, Reacher arrives, by bus, at a midsize, nameless city. He already is embroiled in protecting a sure-to-be victim: He notices a fellow passenger, an old man, being cased by a sketchy young guy because of what appears to be a thick wad of money bulging out of an envelope. That is merely a trope, the first piece of the Reacher action, which attaches him to the old man, whose life and that of his family, it turns out, has become hostage to usurious money lenders. He has borrowed heavily from them to pay his daughter’s huge, potentially life-saving medical bills.
The city in Blue Moon belongs to two rival gangs, Albanians and Ukrainians, each with their armies of enforcers. An invisible yet ominous line divides the urban streets into their respective territories. They have intimidated and bribed the town into obeying their demands. They are up to no good: their métiers are drugs, protection, gambling, prostitution, and money lending.
While those are surely felonious crimes, which bear attending to, Reacher uncovers an even deeper violation of the law. In this work of fiction, more real than fake news, the bad guys are highly funded to maliciously disrupt our democratic values and government using Internet tools to sway public opinion. Just like what happened to interfere with the US 2016 election, also perpetrated by domestic agents of a foreign power.
Reacher quickly assembles his team: his newly met, local lady; a couple of musicians, one a former Marine; and a Cold War retired Army tank commander with a facility for Eastern European languages. An improbable crew befitting Reacher, and but a handful against scores. They face heavily armed gangs with communications systems that the police would envy. No deterrent because Reacher’s inclination is to run toward danger, not away from it.
While he has already dispatched with a respectable number of villains from each gang, he still needs a method to combat the huge odds that remain. So Reacher stirs the pot, he starts a war in which the two gangs go about destroying one another. This helps to even the odds, though he cannot escape the battlefield. He has to finish the job, and we readers like to see him at work.
What is the secret to Child’s more than two decades of Reacher success? There is, of course, Jack (no middle name) Reacher. Just Reacher, as his mother called him as a child. He has been described as “Sherlock Homeless”: “Sherlock” because of the super sleuth he is. While he has no home address, he actually is not “homeless”, merely moving on, a day or two here or there, free of the regimentation and demands made upon him at West Point and then in military service. Reacher also has been called the Incredible Hulk. He is 6’5”, 250 pounds, and possesses unparalleled strength and street fighting skills.
After 13 years in the Army (where he was Commanding Officer of an elite group of Military Police), Reacher began roaming our country. In Blue Moon, he is still on the move, now for about as many years as he was a soldier. Though no longer a cop, he has not left behind his ethos for righting injustices, which abound—and have a way of finding him.
Situational ethics allow for his breaking a lot of rules; after all, “what’s a guy to do, anyway”? He always warns the bad guys that if they leave him (or whoever he is championing) alone, he won’t bother them. But if they don’t abide by that caution, they surely will be leaving the scene in an ambulance. Child’s character keeps getting older but never grows old. Reacher is a rare breed, a physically massive, cerebral (a soldier’s best weapon), wry, iconic, anti-hero, rootless in location yet deeply rooted in seeing justice served.
Which further begs the question: What else do these perennial and hugely successful books provide their readers (more than half are women)? There is Reacher, the centerpiece of every story, with his odd attractiveness and flight from convention, who helps fuel the novels’ winning run. What’s more, we know that children develop, early on, a sense of personal and soon thereafter social justice. In the earliest years of their lives kids recognize—feel—if they are wronged as well as what is fair; they develop a moral compass that carries on into adulthood. Reacher books, thus, quell our ongoing adult need to see the righting of wrongs.
Then there is the fascination of peering into military culture, with its enduring rituals, absurdities, and hierarchies, despite which it deeply instills the value of serving. The US Armed Forces, as well, are perhaps the most racially diverse institutions in our country. Reacher calls the US Army the “green machine,” with its remarkable intimacy among its members, government notwithstanding.
Then there is Child’s storytelling. We all love stories. Every book’s narrative begins with happenstance. Trouble deserving of fixing finds him, or he finds it like the bloodhound he is. Because Reacher justice is not governed by customary rules, we readers can enjoy a story where the ends allow for a variety or otherwise forbidden means. Child’s suspenseful narrative snares readers from page one. He drops clues and information along the way, the pieces of the puzzle that all will merge into a coherent whole in the rush to the book’s end.
Reacher may seem like he wants to be alone, but he finds a partner for every adventure, often a woman in uniform (mostly military and police), though she is a savvy waitress in Blue Moon. He likes and respects women, and some are drawn to his unruly appearance and lifestyle, clearly not measures of his competence. Sometimes there is a transitory romance. These are women who share his need to right wrongs, and their brains and bravery make for a good match.
We like books that keep us turning the pages. In Child’s books, matters always get a lot worse before they get better. That too, is part of the Reacher intrigue, because the tougher things get the greater becomes his focus, resolve, and confidence. The fight scenes are amazing when those full of themselves make the mistake of violating Reacher’s basic rule of (non) engagement. Each novel’s tempo grows in pace, driving the story like a drumbeat to its satisfying resolution (and the reader’s relief). The finale of Blue Moon feels like the third stage of a moon rocket, exploding toward its destination. Wernher von Braun would be proud.
Then Reacher again is back on the road, as if nothing had happened. He neither needs nor takes any reward. “Once in a blue moon things turn out just right.” Our internal code of justice, a moral true north, has been served. While that’s never easy, when it happens it feels like a priceless commodity.