There are those of us who always enjoyed the idea of Reacher’s rambling into another little Nowhere, finding somebody in distress, setting things right, draining the diner of coffee and ambling on. Not this time. Reacher doesn’t even arrive alone. He gets a ride with a traveling insurance guy, then walks right into a trap set for Rusty Rutherford, a newly unemployed I.T. manager. And that’s about as much walking as he’ll do in this town, even though Reacher 1.0 favored long treks that soothed readers. Of course he finds local trouble, and he can see it — oh, boy — “as clearly as if a sky writer had spelled it out with white smoke.” The Childs need to get back to Lee’s sharp writing game too.
The best thing about “The Sentinel” is the amount of action it generates, given that the dull-sounding Pleasantville area is full of generic locations: gas station, cafe, diner, endless motel rooms, storage places, municipal offices, apartments, houses, dumpsters, etc. There’s also a very nongeneric place called Spy House, which would seem to be all the intrigue one small burg needs. But no. The authors have added on many, many layers of plotting, to the point where three books seem compressed into one. We will see how well a MacGuffin involving Russian election interference plays in a book due out on Oct. 27.
Reacher stays far too busy dealing with all of this. It’s presumably Andrew who externalizes much of Reacher’s thinking into chatter, turns every fight into a multipage affair and calls excess attention to Reacher’s intrinsic genius for geometry and physics. (Lee’s tricks were smarter and quicker.) And I have no idea why Reacher needs to do so much shopping this time, but he does. To be fair, the duct tape gets used.
One aim of “The Sentinel” is to bring the Big Guy into the tech world. Much may be made of the fact that he uses a cellphone in this book and has to figure out what servers are. But the additions replace the series’ quaint touches, which had their value. There was always some joy in watching Reacher size up a new motel room, spot the cleanest woman in town, shovel down those trencherman’s breakfasts and then work off 200,000 calories during his day. This time he drives, fights, asks questions, ends chapters with cliffhangers and lays traps. It’s not the simple life we all loved. It’s not propulsive enough to move beyond action for action’s sake, either.