For reasons explicated elsewhere, I’ve been reading my way through the bibliography of pseudonymous British author, Lee Child. As Child has written and published nothing except seventeen (about to be eighteen) novels about the same character, that means I am essentially reading the saga of Jack Reacher, former military policeman, general badass and professional hobo. My review of Killing Floor is available for your perusal and now here is this, a review of the second Jack Reacher novel, Die Trying.
I had numerous issues with Killing Floor, as you may recall. It was hamstrung by its first-person narration, littered with unbelievable action and even more dubious characterization. The plotting was listless when it wasn’t being preposterous and it was generally not a whole lot of fun to read. For me, anyway. I am clearly in the minority, as Killing Floor has sold millions, and Child has served up over 50 million copies of his seventeen-book series thus far.
Die Trying does have one major plus right out of the gate: we’re released from the prison of Jack Reacher’s mind thanks to third-person storytelling. Oh, we still get plenty of interior monologue, but at the very least we’re allowed to leave his immediate surroundings and dip into the actions and thoughts of other characters. Child also dispenses with the book’s single craziest plot point in the very first few pages as Jack Reacher, now wandering the streets of Chicago, just happens to be on hand for the kidnapping of an FBI agent. For reasons known only to the plot gods, Reacher is taken, too, and the stage is set for a crisis that will reach all the way to the White House.
A certain amount of coincidence is to be expected in these books. Child has to come up with ways to involve Reacher — who is in fact a jobless, homeless man who wouldn’t be out of place holding a cardboard sign at an intersection — in events of import. That means that Reacher is going to be depicted as either the luckiest or the unluckiest man in the world, as trouble crops up wherever he goes. This doesn’t rise to the level of silliness as a prime coincidence in Killing Floor did, but it is the sort of thing that can drag a reader right out of the novel if said reader thinks about it too hard.
The subtitle of Modern Bounty Hunting, by pseudonymous author Rex Venator, is A Real-Life Guide for the Bail Fugitive Recovery Agent, and surprisingly enough, that’s exactly what you get with this book. From what I’ve picked up from reviews on Amazon and elsewhere, many books that purport to be about bounty-hunting are nothing but lies and misinformation, so I expect those looking for a solid text on the subject are quite pleased when they run across Venator’s work.
In case you were wondering, I’m not considering becoming a modern bounty hunter of any stripe. I read Venator’s book because I wanted to find out how these men — and women, though mostly men — do their job, and I feel as though I’ve learned quite a bit. Those folks whose bounty hunting knowledge is restricted entirely to reality shows and old westerns will be surprised at the reality of the situation, because it’s a far less exotic and exciting profession than one might think.
Rex Venator had, by the 2005 publication of Modern Bounty Hunting, been doing fugitive recovery work in the state of California for thirteen years. He prided himself on never having faced criminal charges for his actions, and for avoiding any civil liability. Some people think that bail enforcement is all about living on the edge, kicking in doors and whatnot, but the truth of the matter is that it’s a fairly humdrum occupation, even factoring in the generally felonious nature of the bail fugitives the bounty hunters pursue.
In some states, Venator points out, bail enforcement still has a touch of the Wild West left in it, since those states haven’t enacted any specific regulations related to the task. In most others, however, such as Venator’s California, there are multiple forms to be filled out, certifications to earn and a general amount of restrictions that govern what a bail fugitive recovery agent can or cannot do. Perversely enough, it’s actually just these restrictions that make for the most interesting reading in Modern Bounty Hunting, as what should be a fairly straightforward task — find a fugitive, place him or her under arrest, take that fugitive to the lockup — is complicated by the requirements of criminal and civil law.
I don’t look at my reviews anymore, but when I used to I was always driven up the wall by people who would start off their reviews by saying, “I’m not the target audience for this book, but…” and then proceed to criticize my work for everything that makes it appeal to a certain type of reader. Consequently I am not going to do that with my review of Lethal Affairs, by Kim Baldwin and Xenia Alexiou, even though I am not and never will be the intended readership of the book or the series it kicks off.
Who is the ideal reader for Lethal Affairs? Lesbians who enjoy romance and intrigue intermixed. In case it has escaped your notice during your reading of my blog, you may have picked up the fact that I’m a man, so all bets are off.
Some folks may be surprised to learn that when it comes to intrigue romances, the desires and tastes of the lesbian audience are essentially no different from those of straight women who read, for example, Harlequin Intrigue novels. This didn’t catch me unawares, especially with my frequent admonitions on this blog that people are people wherever you go. If you’re a woman who likes romance, you’re a woman who’s going to be pleased with romance. Period. End of story. There’s nothing totally alien about lesbian romance, and the only salient difference here is that the lovers of the tale both happen to be women. Shocking, I know.
First of all, I should say I’m not a huge reader of romances of any stripe, but I’m familiar with how they’re constructed and the way they read. Lethal Affairs conforms to this in every way and hits all the required marks. You won’t be bowled over by beautiful language, as the prose is purely employed to the service of the story, but that is totally beside the point with this kind of thing. Likewise the plot is not so twisty that you’ll find your breath taken away. As it happens, there aren’t many twists at all, as the story is a familiar one with some well-used and serviceable tropes employed.
Pseudonymous British author Lee Child first burst onto the scene with the 1997 release of the novel, Killing Floor, which introduced the world to the character of Jack Reacher. Child would go onto write seventeen more volumes over as many years about this character, with more no doubt in the offing. There’s been a major motion picture based on the character and Child has sold more than 50 million copies of his books. It’s safe to say this Reacher thing has been something of a success.
This is all the more surprising since Jack Reacher is a fairly simple character at heart. A former military policeman, Reacher begins his adventures after leaving the service. Bereft of any real purpose in his life, he takes the money he’s gotten from the government and heads out onto the highways and byways of America living like a hobo. He doesn’t even carry a change of clothes and doesn’t have the basic skills necessary to operate a washer or dryer.
What Reacher can do, however, is get into trouble, and he manages to do just that from the opening moments of Killing Floor. Having just walked fourteen miles in the rain down a country road to a nowhere speck of Georgia town well off the interstate, Reacher has settled in for his first cup of coffee of the day when he’s set upon by the local police, who arrest him at gunpoint for a murder he could not have possibly committed.
This turn of events sets into motion a relatively straightforward conspiracy plot that will find Reacher entering the confidence of certain officers in the town’s police force, essentially taking over their investigation of the murder and eventually wreaking righteous havoc (and death) on the bad guys. If you think this book is going to turn out any other way, then you have probably never read a book before.
Child himself has said that Killing Floor is not his best work, which is good because it takes some of the pressure off me when I criticize it. Readers were clearly blown away by Killing Floor, since it went bestseller almost immediately. Each of the follow-ups have been bestsellers, as well, so whatever else one might take Child to task for, he clearly knows The Secret. It’s the same secret that writers like Dan Brown have, where every book is a smash even as their fans acknowledge that they’re reads meant specifically for fun and not as great writing.