The Midnight Line by Lee Child (Jack Reacher #22)

It’s not easy to take a character as (usually) dynamic and interesting as Jack Reacher and write a whole novel from his point of view that is dull, plodding, and lacking in suspense, emotion, or action.  But, somehow Lee Child – perhaps on deadline to push out another Jack Reacher “bestseller” – has managed it.  I’m a little late to the party on this book, having plucked the audio book from my father-in-law’s bookshelf just recently.  This book should be a warning to anyone thinking about blindly purchasing the any future book in this series without carefully reading the reviews and the preview.  Don’t assume that the words Lee Child and Jack Reacher on the cover automatically mean it’s going to be good.  This book isn’t.  You may also question whether to fully credit the reviews previously posted by those who rated this book 5 stars.

Is there any action?  No, not really.  The hulking fighting machine that is Jack Reacher easily dispatches a gang of six bikers without a weapon and comes away without a scratch.  He takes out two bodyguards in 3 seconds with two punches.  He disarms and subdues three cowboys, one of whom has a rifle pointed at him – again, without any effort.  There is no point during the story when Reacher is in any real danger, nor are any of the “good guys” in the story ever in peril. If this were a movie, you’d see clips from every action scene in the trailer, and then wonder at the end of the show, where’s the rest?

Is there any suspense?  None.  The plot follows Jack as he tries to track down the owner of a West Point class ring, which he finds randomly in a Wisconsin pawn shop, while aimlessly traveling by bus to nowhere In particular after separating from his girlfriend in Chicago.  The pawn shop owner gives him the name of the local fence (Jimmy Rat), who gives up the name of his source in South Dakota (Arthur Scorpio).  Scorpio is the “big man” in the crime syndicate.  There is never any explanation about how Scorpio allowed himself to be personally involved in the fencing of odd-lot jewelry, which makes no real sense in the overall plot, but never mind such details or plot holes – there are many.) Scorpio sends Jack to Wyoming, with a somewhat false lead, but Jack links up with a private investigator who happens to also be searching for the owner of the ring, and they talk (slowly) to all the local residents of a wide spot in the road called Mule Crossing until they miraculously strike up a conversation with a guy in a bar in Laramie who happens to have friend who did roof work on the house where the missing woman was living and so they eventually track her down, along with her rich sister (who is paying for the PI), who shows up in Wyoming just so that there is a female character in the plot.  All this happens very slowly and methodically, without any sense that there is a reason to hurry or any potential negative consequences if they don’t find her soon enough.  Then, they all work out a plan to solve all the remaining plot problems, which works out without a hitch and again without any suspense, peril, or anxiety.  (Yawn.)

Is there any romance?  Not really. One scene near the end that’s over quickly and has little emotional impact.  No real sexual tension between Jack and the sister, although there could have been.

Is the plot interesting?  Meh.  As a missing person’s investigation, it plods along, following every lead and every witness who has nothing useful to say.  We don’t know who the missing woman is until we find her, and we have no reason to care. Jack is just killing time following the West Point ring out of idle curiosity.  The PI is getting paid.  The sister is worried about the woman, and for good reason, but  as a reader, it’s hard to care much and the author does nothing to make us feel differently.  There are a few twists in the story, but in each case they are unrealistically easy for Jack to navigate, and the plot doesn’t really tie together particularly well.  (One example:  a key plot point is that the local pusher selling opioids to the missing woman has to visit her remote Wyoming home to make a sale, and then has to come back the very next day to make another sale, while the rich sister is staying there and paying for the drugs.  Why?  Why not buy enough on the first day to last a week?  Why make the guy come back the next day?  There’s no reason, except that the author needs him there in order to advance the plot.)

Even the narration of the audio book is slow and plodding, for which I don’t blame the voice actor, who did a good job.

In the end there is nothing that happens here that matters.  There is a small (very small) commentary on the opioid addiction problem, particularly for army veterans dealing with war injuries, but even that is glossed over without any cogent explanation about why this woman was not able to get better treatment from the VA or from the civilian medical system and had to resort to self-medicating with illegal opioids.  Although the author dwells on this for much longer than necessary, it doesn’t add any meaningful content.

The story is well-written in its descriptions (often very repetitive) and in the flow from one day to the next as Jack hitch-hikes toward his next destination, without a cell phone (??) and not wanting to rent a car (??).  If you want nine hours of narration to put you to sleep at night, then this is your audio book.  Otherwise, stay away from the Jack Reacher series until you read for yourself that a future installment is worth your money and time.  This one isn’t.


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