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Lee Child
A Wanted Man
Pantheon / Random House
US Hardcover First Edition
ISBN 978-0-385-34433-3
Publication Date: 09-11-2012
408 Pages; $28
Date Reviewed: 12-12-2012
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2012

Index:  Mystery  General Fiction

In a grocery store, in a restaurant, on a mall, on the sidewalk, we're surrounded by people who, for the most part, seem to be upstanding good citizens, folks we don't know but might, and who, if we knew them, we might like. For all the "stranger danger" warnings that are pushed our way, we pretty much take people at face value. In 'A Wanted Man,' Lee Child's iconic Jack Reacher starts the book hitching a ride. He's picked up by a car with two men in the front and woman in the back seat. He joins them with only the intention of getting closer to Virginia. But he rapidly twigs to the fact that these people are not who they say they are.

The latest entry in the Jack Reacher series manages again to provide a thoroughly satisfying reading experience with Child's minimalist approach firmly in place. While we have a fairly limited cast, the scope is a bit wider than some of his other books. Reacher's ride proves increasingly problematic, and as the story opens up, Child alternates between different perspectives and different scenes to crank up the tension with a naturalistic ease. As Reacher tries to solve the problem from the white-hot center of action, his allies and enemies in the surrounding, open landscape are in pursuit. Child takes his readers through a long, hard journey fraught with peril, escapes, assaults on castles, so to speak and character arcs within the novel that are rich and satisfying.

Reacher's deductive side is particularly entertaining in 'A Wanted Man.' On the ride, in the car, Reacher uses his skills as an observer — and Child uses his skills as a writer — to de-construct the stories Reacher has been told and re-assemble them in what proves to be a more threatening plot. Child is a master at evoking low-key, believable suspense and terror, and, in the same passage, evoking a rather humorous joy as Reacher manages to suss just what is going on. It is easily read, engrossing as all get-out, but in analysis it is really quite sophisticated. Child is able to convey very complicated situations with a clarity and simplicity that effectively lulls the reader into a superb rhythm of suspense and release.

There are some great one-off characters to be found in 'A Wanted Man,' particularly Sheriff Goodman. Child is careful to shade his characters with flaws that they themselves become aware of as the narrative moves forward. He provides satisfaction to readers on a variety of levels. It is richly rewarding to see characters make mistakes, know that as a reader, and then have the character identify their own mistakes. We also get lots of satisfaction by virtue of knowing more than any one character because we can see things from more than one perspective. Child uses this with great success, particularly in the action scenes.

Readers can rest assured that there are many moments when Reacher clocks someone who needs it in a manner that will evoke laughter. Now, this is a rather odd aspect of the novels. Child never plays it for laughs, and even as we laugh, we know it's not exactly the right response. It's almost like a bark, an unformed and unformable verbal acknowledgement of the rightness of what just happened on the page. Reading these books lets us unleash our own inner deduction on those crowds of strangers, and bring back the delicate unease of "stranger danger." In the end, there's a rough poetry to 'A Wanted Man.' Reacher, who has certainly changed a number of lives in the preceding pages, is himself utterly unchanged. We have seen behind the faces in the crowd, but Reacher has just put one foot in front of the other.

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