Hope and Despair Lee? Hope and Despair?
The West is riddled with little towns and the remnants of other one-time settlements and they often have interesting names. Many of them point to historical or geographical facets of the community that someone, sometime thought were important. Cripple Creek for example, was said to be named by a rancher whose calf was crippled by an ill-timed jump over a creek as a result of an accidentally discharged six shooter. Bombay Beach was going to lure vacationers from the French Riviera to the edge of the Salton Sea until the salt-in-the-sea combined with torrential rainfall in the 70s overtook man’s ambitions. Given the long, long list of colorful place names that Lee Child could have used to place his latest Jack Reacher thriller in, he settles on the imaginary neighbors Hope and Despair. [CLICHE ALERT…CLICHE ALERT…CLICHE ALERT]
Reacher and his toothbrush are traversing the country from Maine to San Diego when his hitchhiked ride drops him on the road to a company town named Despair. He makes note of an important marker found where city or county lines meet, the change in the roadway. The road from Hope is smooth, well built, and recently blacktopped. At the expansion joint where Hope relinquishes the thoroughfare, the road becomes pitted, worn out and obviously constructed at minimal expense. Upon walking into town, Jack notices immediately that this was not a town with a huge tourist draw. Sitting in the only cafe he can find, Reacher is pointedly ignored by the waitress until the welcoming committee notices him. As they surround him, not to give him the key to the city but to tell him to leave, their fate is sealed. Those of us who know Jack Reacher know that the fastest way to broken bones and contusions is to tell him to do something without an adequate explanation.
The rest of this fast paced thriller follows Jack as he seeks to discover the reasons why people are so adamant about keeping non-locals out. Utilizing a temporary romance in next door Hope, Reacher learns more than he wants to know about the recycling plant that is the center of life in Despair. In the course of his nosing around we are exposed to Reacher’s/Child’s feelings toward the Iraq war as the snooping intertwines depleted uranium, army deserters, veterans brain injuries, the end-times, and preacher/town hoss. These positions might counter your own but, if you can put that aside, this is a typically good Lee Child effort. Reacher is himself throughout, able to take on and defeat multiple assailants, strangely attractive to women, and tack sharp in his detective skills. Once you are drawn into the story, you won’t stop until you cross the 400 page mark.
I’m hoping that the cliches were simply the result of Child wanting to make his anti-war stand through his hero Jack Reacher and that the next book will return to the generally smart character and fantastic pacing. If you haven’t met Jack yet, I would recommend starting with either Bad Luck and Trouble or The Hard Way to get a better feel for his personae before you draw any conclusions from this effort alone.
Cue Anti-Flag – Depleted Uranium is a War Crime