Reacher is still on his roundabout trek to San Francisco and the Pacific Ocean. He got side-tracked in “The Sentinel” (#25) but he’d reset his heading in that general direction until his ride had to turn around and go back. And Reacher being true to form, chooses to walk rather than go backwards, even if it is only a temporary detour. He’s just inside the Arizona state line in the desert area of scrub and sagebrush when he sees an old Jeep with a woman at the wheel, head down and unmoving. The Jeep is smack up against the only tree visible in the desert landscape. Did she swerve to miss something in the road or have some kind of attack? Reacher’s sense of honor dictates his next move as he tries to see what’s what and quickly finds himself looking down the barrel of a gun.
“Better off Dead” (#26 in the series) begins in typical Reacher fashion with him trying to help Michaela Fenton, the woman who’d previously threatened to shoot him. She’s looking for her twin brother who was working on a hush-hush project of deadly proportions but she fears he’s already dead. The guy he was working for is notorious for killing his enemies using horribly torturous methods. Mention his name and people are either shaking in their boots or scattering to the hinterlands. Everyone but Reacher that is.
“Better off Dead” is the second collaboration between Lee and Andrew Child and in it everyman’s hero is back in fighting form. The plot is full of twists and turns and no shortage of tight situations from which Reacher must figure a way out. The villain, known only as Mr. Dendoncker, is universally feared and reviled, especially by his employees who are loyal to a fault inasmuch as they fear their own fate if they fail at whatever job he assigns them. They figure they’re better off dead than to succumb to his torture. Surprisingly no one outside his personal staff has ever seen him and his offices are like an impenetrable fortress. But telling Reacher it can’t be done just makes him more determined to prove you wrong.
Okay, I’m going to have my say about the elephant in the room. No the collaborative writing is not the same and depending on your point of view, it might even be considered an improvement. But to be fair, I’m not in that camp. I liked all the ‘Reacher rituals’ such as him carefully putting his pants between the mattress and box springs to press out the wrinkles before going to bed, and buying a new ‘uniform’ and trashing the old set when they get too ratty looking. There are others but you get the idea. He still uses his knowledge of physics and kinetic energy to fight off the bad guys but it’s not as crisp and sharp-eyed. It’s more mechanical, as if, “Oh right, the readers will be expecting some explanations here”. As if he’s duty bound to feed our appetite for mayhem. That said, Reacher remains my number one hero. He’s still sticking up for the little guy and dishing out his own brand of retribution to those who deserve it. I sincerely hope the brothers Child member what my granny used to say. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Four stars.
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