Friday, July 7, 2017

Review: Lee Child thriller resurrects Cold War terror

Review of: Night School
Author: Lee Child
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Source: Dallas Public Library
Grade: B

I admit to a feeling of dread when I learned that Night School, the latest Jack Reacher novel by Lee Child, was set 20 years in the past, while Child’s iconic, laconic hero was still in the Army. Did this signal the end of Reacher’s career? Had the traumatic injuries he suffered during the last novel finally proved more than even his almost-superhuman powers could sustain? Worse, Night School was touted as the story of a plot by Middle Eastern terrorists nearly a decade prior to the 9/11 attacks. It felt like a been there, seen that vibe.

By now, fans can breathe easier, knowing that a brand new, current time Reacher story is in the works for this fall. Until then, fans can shiver through a long, hot summer with Night School, which features the most terrifying, world-changing plot Child has ever devised, one that would have left the 9/11 attacks far, far behind. But if you’re tempted to breathe easier knowing that the world didn’t end in 1996, think again. Because the threat could still be out there.

I was also delighted to see an expanded appearance by Sergeant Frances Neagley, the brainy, kick-ass of a sidekick we see all too seldom in the Reacher novels. (Child also reveals why Neagley is the only beautiful woman Reacher has never attempted to sleep with, and never will, despite their obvious mutual attraction.)

The story opens with the presentation of a medal to Reacher, ostensibly for “meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services,” yada, yada, but actually, as he knows, for discreetly assassinating a pair of Bosnian war criminals. After that, he is inexplicably sent back to school for an inter-agency cooperation detail.

Reacher can’t imagine anything more boring. But like the medal presentation, the detail’s bland façade is a cover for something far more sinister. Reacher’s real mission, and that of his fellow “classmates” is to find the weapon that’s causing so much chatter among terrorist groups. Something for which they’re willing to pay an American 100 million dollars.

The team’s first problem: What American? Their second: what does anyone have that’s worth that much money?

The chase leads Reacher from Washington, D.C., to Hamburg, Germany, still feeling the economic shocks of German reunification, deep into the history of the Cold War and fears of Soviet invasion.

The best clue Reacher’s group finds, as al-right groups vie with jihadists, as terrorist messengers crisscross the globe, as their masters plan double- and triple crosses, is an American soldier who claimed to have joined the Army because of stories a family member told him about a legendary hero of the Alamo.

The answer Reacher and Neagley uncover is one of the most chilling secrets of the Allies’ nuclear arsenal. One that may still lurk unseen, lost like the Ark of the Covenant in some forgotten inventory.

Cold War history buffs may figure things out faster than Reacher, even with Neagley’s aid. If only I had Googled the names of the defenders of the Alamo. . .  

Don't hope for any revelations of Reacher's personal life in Night School. After 20 books, what personal quirks are left to be revealed? And while he's still tied to his day (and night) job in the U.S. Military Police, his scope for action is more limited than in previous books that dealt with life after his less than sedentary retirement. And rest assured there will be no scenic beauty in Child's version 1990's Hamburg. Instead, enjoy (or shudder) through this bone-chiller of a thriller.

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