The Sentinel, the 25th book in the series, is somewhat of a landmark in the history of Jack Reacher novels as it marks the first full-length collaboration between the two brothers. There are some spoilers toward the end of this post, but I will mostly stick to my impressions of the new writing team than dissecting the plot of what they have written.
Given the new name on the front cover (albeit much smaller than the creator) The Sentinel has been a rather divisive instalment. Trawling through various reviews, I see that some fans are excited over what they see as a new dawn for Reacher while others see it as the first nail in his coffin, or indeed a book that never should have happened. Those fans wanted Reacher alone and dead in a motel room.
I sit happily in the first camp. For me, the Reacher novels have been on a downward trend of late and Blue Moon was a real disappointment. So, injecting some new blood into the writing has to be a good thing, and unlike a lot of fans I thoroughly enjoyed Andrew Child’s first attempt. Sure, he seems to have been writing with a checklist in his mind of things Reacher needs to do:
- Mention prime numbers
- Analyse the options in a fight before punching the crap out of someone
- Be sarcastic about an adversary’s use of the English language
- Mention his French mother and his dead brother
- Buy some new clothes
- Mention what he carries in his pockets – usually a roll of money, a toothbrush and his passport
- Drink lots of coffee and sleep whenever he can
- Put his clothes under a mattress to press
The list goes on, and he checks everything off (apart from the dead brother, I’m not sure that comes up). As a result, I can understand some of the derisive comments aimed at the book being ‘fan fiction’. But I’d rather think of it as a reminder of what this character is about, as if Andrew Child is putting a line in the sand and saying, “okay here’s what I have to work with”.
I think the most entertaining thing in the story is the interplay between Rusty the young computer nerd and Reacher. The generational gap between the two characters mirrors the generational gap between the two writers. Reacher knows very little about technology, prefers paper maps and phonebooks to Google maps and mobile phone contacts lists, in fact he doesn’t even have a mobile phone. He is painted as a relic from a bygone era but still good with his hands and his brain.
The story itself is typical Reacher fodder with a seemingly small-town plot having much deeper consequences for the security of the US and perhaps the free world. I devoured The Sentinel over the course of a few days and liked the timely choice of topic of foreign powers undermining the electoral system. It certainly is a page-turner and while I planted my tongue firmly in my cheek at the idea of a Russian spy pretending to be a Hitler fixated Neo-Nazi with a secret nuclear bunker in his back garden, it all plays out very enjoyably.