Past Tense: A Jack Reacher Novel

Image of Past Tense: A Jack Reacher Novel
Release Date: 
November 6, 2018
Delacorte Press
Reviewed by: 

If you think the age of the Knight of the Round Table is over, not to worry. He lives on. Jack Reacher is a wanderer whose meanderings follow no predictable itinerary, a man who moves on, as a rule, from day to day. Unless he pauses because there is a wrong to be righted, justice to be served, or that his working rule (“if you leave me alone, I'll leave you alone.") is violated. He is seeing the America he never did as a military child stationed around the world, at West Point, or when he was Army active duty until he mustered out after 13 years.

Reacher, not Jack, no middle name, is how he calls himself, as even his mother did when a he was a boy. While he moves around alone he is not a loner. He finds interesting company, transiently, along the way, adding to the texture of each book. His best co-travelers on any adventure are able women and old-timers. Women may be the superior gender in his mind, not just mentally but physically as well. Reacher likes women, and they can find his unruly appearance and life attractive, as well as is his remarkable capacity to observe, deduce and problem solve. Some of his better angels call him "Sherlock Homeless."

Reacher is almost unique among male, fictional heroes. He doesn’t drink alcohol (to any excess) and does not smoke, though he loves coffee, lots of it. He is not a lost soul, but rather a soul on an American pilgrimage. He has no car or motorcycle, and carries no luggage (except for a fold up toothbrush in his pocket). He hitchhikes, uses buses and trains, and once in a while has to take a plane. He likes to walk. He doesn't have a lot to carry.

He is an imposing creature: six foot, five inches and 250 pounds of muscle. He is a lethal weapon if he needs to be, without any armaments. Reacher is like a land mine you don't want to step on. He speaks French (his mother was a French resistance fighter), has an encyclopedic mind and can calculate about anything in his head, with no calculator, including having an unerringly accurate mind clock ticking that tells him the time. He is a former Army Major who had been Commanding Officer of an elite unit of Military Police, cops who had to police military law with soldiers trained to kill—and who were called on when classified troubles of the military erupted.

Past Tense is the 23rd Reacher novel; the first 22 were all on the New York Times bestseller list (13 were #1). Lee Child’s new novel is more measured—cerebral—in its exposition, which allows for the suspense to more methodically reach its boiling point. There are still the signature explosive fights and confrontations that Reacher fans love, and he continues to dispatch those that dare perturb him or don't treat others right, no matter how tipped against him the odds may be.

By happenstance, as is usually his case, Reacher finds himself near Laconia, NH, where his Marine father was raised. He decides to take a look back which quickly proves disquieting and leads to past and present troubles. A local, female police detective becomes his ally once the trouble starts, though she wishes it would never have come to her quiet town. Reacher is an irresistible force, so expect sparks on both the relationship and righting wrong fronts.

Some will be familiar with Reacher from the two hit films, Jack Reacher (from the novel One Shot) and Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, both hugely fast paced, good versus bad tales. Controversy brews as to whether Tom Cruise, who optioned the Lee Child books and cast himself as the lead, is a credible Reacher. You can decide. Keep an eye out for Mr. Child’s brief, uniformed, cameos, like Hitchcock did.

A reader's heart often sinks when there are but 100 or so pages to the finish of a Reacher book. That's because we don't want Mr. Child's storytelling to end, however much one wants the suspense to be resolved. For the record, these books are not “guy” stories: turns out, well over half of his readers are women.

The walls of two deadly and one family plot converge in the closing chapters of Past Tense. What has been said about being a “page-turner,” the crescendo that propels a reader forward certainly applies here. When Reacher steps into the fray, he does not like to lose, though the path to closure is always novel in all these books. We are left knowing that his family heritage remains true—how the acorn does not fall far from the tree.