THE AFFAIR

Written by Lee Child

Review written by LJ Hurst

Initially, L. J. Hurst worked in the backrooms of the media industry. He now divides his time between work for an international scientific publisher and a rather more British independent bookseller. In years past he was a regular attendee at the Shots on the Page Festivals from whence Shots Mag sprung


THE AFFAIR
Bantam
RRP: £18.99
Released: 29th October 2011
Hbk

The Affair goes back to Jack Reacher’s last days in the US Army, ultimately explaining why he left the forces. Intentionally or not it is also shows a simpler Reacher, or at least a simpler plot, without the foreshadowing and catch-up that is feature of, say, Trip-Wire.

The army is anxious to protect the reputation and privacy of Kelham base in a back corner of Mississippi, but the murder of a woman in the local town seems to threaten that, as her corpse suggests she meet her death at the hands of a professional killer. The Special Forces who fly in and out of the base have that training. One military policeman is sent into the base and locks it down. Reacher, in plain clothes, goes into the nearby town.

Southern towns such as Carter Crossing, Mississippi seem to have changed little since Virgil Tibbs dropped into Sparta in the same state thirty-odd years before – people are poor, the police force is small, the coroner uncaring, the rednecks are still there. Perhaps only the role of the railroad has changed – trains race through Carter Crossing without stopping. That means any evidence left on the track is smashed to pieces whether they are vehicles or bodies, making Reacher’s job just a little more difficult. For Reacher, though, difficult does not mean impossible, and he reasons things through. Sometimes that indicts the town, such as discovering that not only was the victim not killed where she was found but that she had been strung up on a butcher’s frame, something common in the backwoods; sometimes information suggests someone within the base.

Reacher cannot keep away from the railroad, but then the railroad seems to keep forcing itself on him. Not everything starts there, but that is where it ends. Unlike some of his other adventures, Reacher does not try to enter the fort, instead he explores its environs and unattractive guardians, identifying the geography of the area and its relation to that first death and then two more. “Explores” in that last sentence, remembering that this is Jack Reacher we are talking about, is a euphemism. It does not stop him, though, from identifying how and why the victims were killed, and the meanness of it all, or attempting to put it right.

The Affair
, perhaps intentionally because it describes incidents early in his career, or perhaps unintentionally, as a confrontation with hicks left unresolved might suggest that Lee Child had slipped in his plotting, is not perfect Reacher. Nevertheless, even a three-and-a-half or four on a scale of one to five, when that is the Child scale, is far higher than most of his rivals and wannabes could hope to reach.

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