In Echo Burning we find Jack Reacher bumming around small town Texas and eventually hitching a fateful ride from a young Hispanic woman called Carmen Greer. Carmen is married to a guy called Sloop who is soon to be released from prison after being put away for some tax-related naughtiness. The problem for Carmen, and the main driver for this story, is that she was physically abused by Sloop on an almost daily basis. To complicate matters Carmen has a young daughter and she’s unwilling to move away from the ranch where she lives with Sloop’s family (mother and brother) in Echo County outside of the town of Pecos.
During the drive into Pecos Reacher listens to Carmen’s tale of woe. It makes for a slow build-up of background information at the top of the tale but it’s important that Reacher is 100% convinced by Carmen’s story for what comes next. That is her request that he help Carmen to kill her husband when he gets out and Reacher’s refusal.
Reacher instead agrees to protect Carmen and have a hard word with Sloop if he should raise a hand to her. He is hired as a farmhand on the ranch and after some horse care lessons from Carmen’s child the suspicion held by Sloops family that he is just another man Carmen has picked up to entertain her while her hubby’s in jail is dropped.
Despite this Reacher runs afoul of Sloop’s brother and has to dish out some extreme violence against a couple of guys that are tasked with sending him on his way. Some broken bones later Reacher returns to the ranch and tells the brother in no uncertain terms to back the hell off. When Sloop gets home it’s not long before more violence erupts but it’s not quite what you’d expect. Sloop is murdered and Carmen is arrested.
All evidence points towards Carmen having done the dastardly deed but Reacher being so convinced of her innocence decides to do what he does best (when he’s not breaking heads) and investigate. Suffice to say, to keep spoilers at bay, that justice is eventually served.
There’s a very slow build up to begin with in this novel but once it gets going it goes from strength to strength. There’s even a little kind of Easter egg in the story where Carmen leaves a clue for Reacher to find but he doesn’t spot it and she has to explain it to him later on. Unlike the last book I didn’t figure out what was going on for some time but as usual my advice is to keep an eye out for seemingly peripheral detail that Lee Child throws into the story seemingly as asides.
Having now read a few Reacher novels I can understand why there is some dismay over another cinema outing by Tom Cruise as this much-loved character. The diminutive star, despite all his undeniable pluck, just doesn’t really fit the bill physically.