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Monday, June 7, 2010

At Least He Wasn't Named After the Dog

When I was a kid, the first Indiana Jones movie came out. There were chills and thrills galore, as Indy went gallivanting all over the globe (exotic locales!), chasing bad guys (evil Nazis!), helping out a feisty ex-girlfriend (who could drink men twice her size under the table--so cool!), and, you know, saving the world and stuff. But, what really made it so awesome was that Indy wasn’t the stereotypical super-spy or super-hero... there were no James Bond gadgets or gizmos, none of that too-incredible luck (the kind that makes you wince, because it’s just so contrived), and no special powers a la Superman. No super-anything. Indy was just a regular guy--a smart, bookish, sort-of-nerdy professor of archeology--who almost magically transformed into more than the sum of his parts (erm, so to speak... not that those individual parts weren’t pretty darn fine) when he set out on his mission to make things right in the world (and save humanity, in the process). His success was due to brainpower--using both his knowledge (see where all that book-larnin’ can get ya?) and his wits (quick reflexes and common sense)--plus a heaping helping of old-fashioned guts. He was the perfect thinking person’s hero. (Plus, he had a helluva grin. I will not lie.)
I couldn’t help but picture Indiana Jones when reading Lee Child’s thirteenth book featuring enigmatic hero Jack Reacher. It’s true that Gone Tomorrow involves no globe-trotting (primarily taking place, as it does, in New York City, with brief jaunts to Washington, D.C. and North Carolina); nor does it involve sacred archeological relics (or huge rolling boulders, or a pit of snakes--well, unless you don’t actually mean snakes in the literal sense). It does, however, involve multiple quests--for the truth, for people, and for missing items--and there are a great number of people, all with differing agendas, doing the searching. It also requires a look back at history, and trying to make sense of past actions and their possible implications on the present day. Most of all, it has to do with one smart, capable man with plenty of bravery (but no special gizmos save his fists), intent on his self-styled mission to make things right again. Oh, and did I mention that he's also brawny and rugged, a world-weary traveler? (See? Shades of Indy.)
This installment in Reacher’s continuing saga starts off with a bang, as Reacher finds himself on a nearly-deserted New York subway car late one summer night. The other few passengers are minding their own business--reading,  daydreaming, or dozing... all save one woman, who just so happens to exhibit every single one of the classic signs of being a suicide bomber--signs which ex-MP Reacher knows by heart. (I won’t tell you exactly who/what she is or what she does, but her actions--and Reacher’s reactions--kick off the action for the rest of the story.)
As all-too-often happens with the nomadic, former Army man, Reacher soon finds himself under scrutiny by the police... along with the FBI, the DoD, some ex-military private guys, and at least one foreign terrorist group. Once that happens, there’s no chance he’ll leave well enough alone; he may have stumbled unwittingly into one big mess, but he’s compelled to ferret out the answers to whatever he's wandered into--and in this case, it’s a big ol' convoluted muddle. (If you haven’t yet read Child’s oeuvre of Reacher tales, you should be beating feet to the bookstore or library to pick up a few copies. Also understand that Reacher’s M.O. is getting into--and out of--jams.) 
It seems that certain key information from the Cold War era has been smuggled out of the Pentagon and is destined for a hand-off to an old woman claiming to be a former Russian political commissar. She supposedly only wants to find and talk to the U.S. officer she met more than 25 years ago, asking him about his actions. Reacher, who wasn’t born yesterday, is highly skeptical of that story, and thinks about what he wasn’t being told, once the meeting is over. With his own personal knowledge of the way the military works--both in and out of war at the field level, and at home, on the bureaucratic one--he susses out just whom the woman is probably trying to find. He lands on a particular U.S. Senator from North Carolina as the likeliest candidate, and sets out to confront the other man with the woman’s allegations. 
He goes first to D.C., then to North Carolina, to meet with the Senator--a retired Army major, who’d won multiple medals for his service. The man gives Reacher very little information  about his activities and insists he doesn’t know the Russian woman who is looking for him. Reacher returns to NYC, having gained little more than the certainty that there is considerably more to the story than meets the eye (or than what he’s been told so far)... and that the Senator actually seems like a good guy.
Back in NYC, Reacher is questioned by some guys who don’t seem to be on the up-and-up, as well as by the Feds. He enlists the reluctant aid of a couple of cops, somewhat related to the subway incident. He breaks some heads (and arms, guts, and other tender parts) when he is tracked a little too enthusiastically. The police and then the FBI become convinced he’s guilty of... something seriously bad. Meanwhile, he learns that the old Russian woman has a very different story than the one she offered him at their first meeting. And, the Senator (and his aid) are constantly hovering in the background, nervous about everything.
Saying any more about the plot would give away key turning points, so suffice it to say that Gone Tomorrow is a satisfyingly-solid story. It has much to say about the politics of war and the various roles countries (and their militaries) play. It deals with terror, with misinformation, and with secrets and lies. It's exciting in an old-fashioned, Saturday-matinee way, an edge-of-your-seat thrill ride set to the madcap ticking of a clock. And, it's pretty darn cool when Indy--I mean, Jack Reacher--triumphs over evil, yet again.
GlamKitty Catnip Mousie Rating: 4 out of 5 mice