Rhapsody in Books Weblog

Review of “The Affair” by Lee Child


Note: This review is by my husband Jim.

Fans of Lee Child may have wondered why Jack Reacher, Child’s popular protagonist, left the army. (Even in the first book in the series, Reacher was already an ex-Army M.P.) Child answers that question in The Affair, by going back in time to 1997 for the termination of Reacher’s military career, when Reacher was 36.

Most of the action takes place near Fort Kelham, a fictional army ranger base in Northern Mississippi, where Reacher has been sent to make sure the army is not implicated in the murder of a beautiful young townie. The young lady in question, who happened to be Caucasion, was the victim of a grizzly throat slashing, just the sort of killing a well-trained army ranger might be able to accomplish. It then transpires that two other local beautiful women were recently killed in an identical modus operandi, but being black, their murders caused hardly a ripple.

While in Mississippi, Reacher encounters some tough [but not nearly as tough as Reacher] Good Ol’ Boys, a beautiful ex-marine sheriff named Elizabeth Deveraux, and a sinister plot that extends high into the Pentagon. As one who has read Lee Child novels can expect, Reacher goes on to beat up the Good Ol’ Boys (six of them at one time), make passionate love to the ex-marine, and foil the sinister plot. In the process, the reader learns the extent of damage that (1) a freight train can do to a car; (2) a hunting knife can do to a throat; and (3) a well-timed head-butt can do to an unexpecting combatant.

Child is an expert at describing macho wise-cracking, verbal intimidation, and hand-to-hand combat. He is awful at describing sex. Unlike most of his books, this one contains several sex scenes, none of which is erotic, all of which could have been truncated. During the first and most explicit sex scene, I kept asking myself, “When is he going to finish?!” That scene was probably more painful because I was listening to an audio book and could not easily skip to the dénouement.

The reader of the audio version, Dick Hill, does a decent job of changing voices for the male characters; but when he indicates that a female is speaking, it is just painful. I’d have trouble being attracted to any woman who sounded like him even if she were gorgeous and intelligent.

Nevertheless, when he sticks to his knitting, Child can be very good, and this book is no exception. Child knows how to withhold just enough information from the reader to keep one off balance without being too gimmicky. The plot is nicely complicated, and the action outside the bedroom is fast-paced and handled with aplomb. Child uses repetition of verbal themes very effectively. For example, when Reacher says, “I said nothing,” you can almost hear ominous theme music playing in the background.

Evaluation: This isn’t the best Jack Reacher novel I’ve read, but it is not bad. Recommended for airport reading.

Note: This is the 16th book in the Jack Reacher series. I listened to the unabridged audio version on 11 compact discs.

Rating: 2.5/5

Audio version published by Random House Audio, 2011. The reader, Dick Hill, is a three-time winner of the Audie Award. [Insert by Jill: I listened to part of this tape with Jim, and I agree: when the reader tried to sound like a female, it was just laughable.]