Review of Lee Child’s Never Go Back

Typically I don’t post book reviews here. Today will be an exception.

Days ago, I was at the restaurant and a customer who was reading during her meal finished her book. She then asked “Do you like mystery or thriller novels?” I replied “Well, it’s not my usual choice of reading material, but I’ll read nearly anything I can get my hands on, so, yes.” She handed me the book and informed me of how much she enjoyed it. I considered myself fortunate. A new book, delightful! This book was Never Go Back, by New York Times Bestselling author Lee Child.

I should state my unfamiliarity with the author. I knew he was a widely appreciated commercial writer, and one who had created a character that later inspired movies. I had never seen, nor read any of this material. During a highly regrettable bout of insomnia, I read this novel last night. It was, in fact, so bad that I felt the need to post a review here.

*Major Spoilers Ahead*

The book was clearly not the first to feature the protagonist, Jack Reacher, but again, was my introduction to both the writer and the character.

We begin with our protag checking into a hotel, where he is accosted by two assailants with unknown motive. It is explained through painfully obvious exposition that Reacher is ex-military, and apparently highly skilled in combat. He details for us the ways in which he will disable his opponents as he does so, in a style that reminds us of Robert Downey Jr’s portrayal of Sherlock Holmes. From this encounter we establish that Reacher is analytical, calculating and capable. We are given his approximate age and build, but he is, thankfully not overly described…yet.

The scene then skips backward, detailing how Reacher came to be at the hotel, but the motive of his assailants is still unknown. Note this, the author seems to believe that “Mystery” is achieved by withholding information from the reader, by withholding it from the protag. However, he will clumsily put Reacher into situations and add seemingly erroneous details which make no sense until later used as obvious plot devices.

Enter the love interest, Major Susan Turner, henceforth referred to as “Turner”. Make note of this as well. Her name should be highly indicative of the character stereotypes we will soon be subjected to. Turner, a hard T, two syllables, presents an image of authority. It is not overly feminine, yet doesn’t conjure the same image as the name Tyson, for example. Another name that would have worked for his image is Carter. Garner, however, is too soft of a name for his character who will shortly be displayed as slight of frame, yet with a commanding, military presence. We’ll get to that in a moment.

First, I would like to state that in general, men fail at writing women. Women tend to exist (as written by men) either because the writer is in love with the female character, or because he is in love with a male character, often a representation of himself, and that male character needs a female companion to admire him. This is a case of the latter. Let us note, that Jack Reacher, like Lee Child, is a tall blonde with blue eyes. Moving on to the terribly misogynisticly written love interest. Apparently Reacher spoke to Turner on the phone and admired her soft, husky voice, thus deciding to hitchhike across several states in order to ask her to dinner. We will later learn that the entirety of his troubles are because of this woman having learned a secret, and them both having been deemed threats.
Turner is short, slight of frame, with dark skin and dark eyes, and so one-dimensional that she lacks anything resemblant of personality. She even acts like a man, except for when they are in bed. When she wants sex, she tells him quite frankly to take his clothes off. The first sexual encounter was perhaps my favorite scene in the novel. I actually crawled out of bed, paced in annoyance before pouring a glass of water and continuing to read this atrocity, where in which a three-dimensional character has two-dimensional sex with a one-dimensional support role. When Reacher removes his shirt, Turner begins running her fingers over his scars, in a manner resembling a scene from Lethal Weapon. She describes him as **”feral, like an animal”, and verbally wonders at his cold nature, at what it must have taken to turn him into this person. Somehow, this is a turn on, and we proceed to coitus, which thankfully, Child did not attempt to detail. However, we did get this little nugget, which I cannot sardonically describe well enough, and must quote directly. Here is Child’s description of his protag, as seen on page 189, chapter 35.
**”I was wrong,” she said. “You’re not just feral, you’re an actual animal.”
“We’re all animals,” he said. “That’s what makes us interesting.”
“How much do you work out?”
“I don’t,” he said. “It’s genetic.” Which it was. Puberty had brought him many things unbidden, including height and weight and an extremely mesomorph physique, with a six-pack like a cobbled city street, and a chest like a suit of NFL armor, and biceps like basketballs, and subcutaneous fat like a Kleenex tissue. He had never messed with any of it. No diets. No weights. No gym time. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it was his attitude.

There’s literally nothing more damning that I can say than what Child has just done to himself in that particular passage, so I’ll move on to his apparent dislike of Southern Americans. Now, this may be a personal thing, and that’s fine, should we really be promoting personal bias? It’s unacceptable to do based on race or religion, but no one raises a brow when the group of people is geographically based?

Not once is a tertiary character from the South introduced without mockery. From the atrocious description of the accent, to the joke about methlabs and divorces being the causes of lost trailers, to the description of the bloated physique, caused by a diet of cheap beer and fast food. The intellect of these characters is as sub-standard as expected, as is their honor, and combat capability.

Now, on to general complaints. I previously mentioned Child’s habit of putting his characters in situations instead of allowing them to arrive there following any logical progression. This is how the entire book feels. The choices made by characters don’t seem fitting for the character, they seem only designed to arrange pieces into scenarios to provide certain highly predictable outcomes, or to display Reacher’s intellectual prowess. Child introduces details that seem so out-of-place that they could only exist to be brought back up later as a flimsy plot device. At one point a potential daughter is introduced. She displays similar personality traits as well as physical traits, and at one point, though having never met Reacher before, quotes him directly, though unknowingly. Later we learn that the two, despite being almost unnaturally alike, are of no relation. Useless plot points, designed to offer further exposition to further glorify Reacher, because we haven’t already read 400 pages of such.

The wrap-up of the story seems outrageously simplistic, as if these two military types, having fled custody are now carelessly tromping across America in a stolen sports car, a commandeered Toyota, and a Range Rover rented using the credit card of a henchman. During these exploits, at least one civilian and one friend on the inside should have been killed, or at least incarcerated for aiding our fugitive duo, but somehow this is completely overlooked. The only innocents harmed were generally assholes anyway, so the tone is sort of “Who cares about those guys?”

In the end, all of the bad guys are killed, because they’re just too bad to turn to the side of good, except for the masterminds, who are arrested. Turner is reinstated to her unit and insists upon staying with them, because of some honorable something or other, and Reacher must return to being a loner, because a protag like him is just too much man for one woman, I suppose, despite how special he described her as being.

In summation: I give it a 4.5/10. It was exactly the type of droll I expect from novice writers. This leads me to point out that (according to the back of the book) Lee Child is the author of 18 New York Times best-selling Jack Reacher novels, 8 of which reached the #1 slot. This is insanity. Readers, I beg of you, please be more discerning. If we continue to buy and praise this nonsense, it will keep selling. Demand a higher quality book and that is what we will receive.

*All of my works, writing and reviews are subject to copyright.

© M. Black, 2017 All rights reserved.

**Excerpt taken from
Never Go Back, Lee Child
Delacorte Press, New York, 2013


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