“Never Go Back” by Lee Child (Delacorte Press, 400 pages, $28; audiobook, Random House Audio, 11 compact discs, $45).
In 2003 a somewhat unknown writer came out to Yellow Springs. His name is Lee Child. He had just published his novel “Persuader,” the seventh book in his series featuring Jack Reacher, a former military policeman who wanders America like some avenging angel. Or demon.
I interviewed him on my WYSO radio show. I was intrigued. I have been a Lee Child fan ever since, a real Reacher Creature. He recently published the 18th Reacher. “Never Go Back” is an international bestseller. This author is no longer an unknown.
To thoroughly immerse myself in a particular book I will read it while listening to the audiobook version simultaneously. That’s what I did for “Never Go Back.” The audiobook is performed by the veteran reader Dick Hill. The magazine Audiofile has named him a “Voice of Century.”
He’s the consummate pro.
Fans of this series will expect Reacher to be on the road again. His luggage consists of a toothbrush, an ATM card and just the clothes he’s wearing. When he needs a change of apparel, he’ll buy a new outfit then discard what he had on. That’s the Reacher way.
When Reacher was an MP he was based in northern Virginia across the Potomac from Washington, D.C. In Child’s 2010 book “61 Hours” Reacher was battling bad guys in South Dakota. In that story he spent a lot of time on the telephone talking to Major Susan Turner back in Virginia.
Major Turner is the Commanding Officer now of Reacher’s former MP unit.
She has Reacher’s old job. In some subsequent books Reacher has been making his circuitous way back to Virginia. He had only heard her voice. He wanted to meet her in person. As “Never Go Back” begins Reacher has finally arrived in Virginia.
He is not welcomed when he arrive at Turner’s headquarters. He quickly becomes enmeshed in a confused and complicated conspiracy. Suffice it to say without dealing out any spoilers that Reacher and Turner are incarcerated, separately. Then they escape together.
Our fugitives spend the rest of the book attempting to solve a deadly mystery and rehabilitate their reputations. They get to know each other. He reveals himself to her: “I think 99 of us grow up to love the campfire, and one grows up to hate it. Ninety-nine of us grow up to fear the howling wolf, and one grows up to envy it. And I’m that guy.”
While Turner isn’t feral like Reacher, she does have much in common with him. Our secretive lone wolf admits to her that “I don’t care what people think.” He does seem to care what she thinks, at least a little bit. Warning: If gratuitous violence offends you please skip the section in which Reacher deals with a couple of bad guys on a cross-country flight. He can be very unkind.
Last year Child’s 2005 novel “One Shot” transitioned to the big screen as “Jack Reacher” with the diminutive Tom Cruise portraying the massive Jack Reacher. That was bizarre. The books sell like crazy. “Never Go Back” rocketed to No. 1 on the best-selling fiction charts in Australia, New Zealand and Ireland. This week the book will be No. 1 on the New York Times list. Lee Child is unstoppable. But then, so is Reacher.