The Sentinel: A Jack Reacher Novel
With the publication of The Sentinel, there now are 24 Jack Reacher novels. Of the first 23, all were New York Times bestsellers and 15 were #1. They can be bought around the world, in many a language. To have a run like this with only one central protagonist and by one author (with a book at least once a year) is an Olympian achievement.
What would it be like for a “Reacher creature”—the term affectionately used for those with an insatiable appetite for Lee Child’s creations—to read The Sentinel? Inasmuch as it is after Child’s “retirement,” and more so because it is written with Andrew Child, his son (already an accomplished novelist). One has no idea who (son or father) did what in producing this book: who conceived the plot, hammered out the text, did the editing?
There is great fidelity in this first, co-authored Reacher book to the fully formed gestalt of its predecessors. We still have “Sherlock Homeless,” as he was called by his Army General mentor. Reacher is a gifted detective and a wanderer, with an eidetic memory. There is, again, the happenstance of trouble finding Reacher, as he goes about his meanderings with no direction in mind. There is the Reacher “code”: “If you don’t bother me (or someone I care about), I won’t bother you—which you surely will regret.” There is the swift, vigilante justice that Reacher always metes out, with the weight of his sword rendered according to his moral code. Moreover, rules are made to be broken as Reacher, a force of nature, sees fit; like the Lone Ranger, but without Tonto. And, of course, there are the brilliantly depicted fight scenes, the more the better, especially when the odds stacked against Reacher seem insurmountable (to those who don’t know our hero).
But some things are missing. The pace for this book is more of a canter than a gallop; that showed particularly in the closing chapters, which heretofore have been impossible to stop reading. The mystery in The Sentinel felt too convoluted, and hence making for a protracted denouement. There are times when the writing felt more like filler, rather than driving the story forward. There are fewer moments of Mr. Lee Child’s elegant descriptions of people and places, and of his terse prose, where his brevity illustrates the axiom that less is more. No accident he was named Author of the Year at the 2019 British Book Awards, as well his appointment as Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for services to literature, in the same year.
In the books anteceding The Sentinel, Mr. (Lee) Child often built his plots to resonate with America’ societal troubles. For example, The Midnight Line took us deep into the opioid crisis; Echo Burning and Worth Dying For were about domestic abuse; for Gone Tomorrow it was terrorism; presidential assassination attempts for Personal; and Night School merely takes on the fate of the world.
The Sentinel draws upon one of the principal dangers to our country today, namely foreign government (Russian) interference in US politics and elections. But it is blended with extremists, as in neo-Nazi cells, also looking to ruin our democracy and our country. Maybe that’s why the plot was more convoluted—like a Russian egg doll (matrushka doll), where one human creature is nesting, hidden, within another and then another. Mystery needs to be puzzling and suspenseful, but only to a point. A reader can become more strained than intrigued. Don’t make your reader work too hard. After all, reading, especially fiction, is meant to be a pleasure.
This may seem a tough review. In fact, however, The Sentinel is quite an enjoyable book because of its fidelity to the Reacher brand and character: how peril can lurk anywhere, how wrong is righted, and how teamwork delivers the best results, especially when there is a clear and competent leader. We can look forward to the next one written by son and father.
Parents, fathers in this case, usually want their children to supersede them, each in their unique way. The back cover of the hardcover edition of The Sentinel is a photo of Lee and Andrew Child. Each tall and wiry, each confident in his gaze with both implying, “come on, take a swing if you dare.” It is no coincidence that Andrew Child occupied the photo’s foreground, appearing even taller than his quite tall father. That shot heralds what’s ahead, and what we readers want: that Jack Reacher will be alive and well, despite a change in the author foreground of future, co-authored novels. Lee Child is a giant in the world of writers: he casts a long shadow but need not, likely wants not, to eclipse his son.