Click here to read reviewer Bob Walch's take on 61 Hours.
Why havenít I heard of Lee Child before? I donít know, but when I saw how witty and intelligent he was on the FOX News show Red Eye, I knew I had to pick up his latest Jack Reacher novel. 61 Hours is a cold book - brutally cold, in fact. Itís also quite well-written, though a few aspects disappoint. Unfortunately, that includes the ending.
Itís the middle of a horribly cold winter in the wilds of South Dakota. Jack Reacher, former military man turned drifter, has finagled his way onto a senior citizensí tour bus as it traverses the frigid roads. A sleepy driver and a nervous lawyer on his way home from doing a dastardly deed combine to force the bus off the road and involve Reacher in a game of small-town politics and global drug-running, as well as a mystery from the 1950s. When a snowbound townís police force is tasked with safeguarding a witness as well as helping state prison authorities if there is ever any trouble at the new prison, the snow is the least of their worries. Too bad that same snow is preventing any help from arriving when all hell breaks loose.
I almost shivered as I read 61 Hours in the middle of summer. Child brings the setting to life so vividly that I felt I was in the middle of 20-below temperatures even as I enjoyed a pleasant Vancouver summer week. His description of the snow, the wind, the ice, and how traffic in the small town of Bolton moves at a crawl all immerse the reader in Reacherís dilemma. Does he get involved with their situation, or does he move on as soon as the bus is ready to leave again?
The police force is protecting a stubborn elderly lady who refuses to go into the Witness Protection Program, though she remains willing to testify against the biker gang she saw carrying out a drug transaction. This despite knowing that Plato, a cruel and malicious drug lord, intends to have her wiped out. With a man inside the prison willing to cause a distraction knowing that the Bolton police department is contractually obligated to support the new prison if there are any incidents there, Plato will have his man on the scene deal with the troublesome old woman.
Not if Reacher can help it, though.
I canít wait to read more about Jack Reacher. Heís a man of few words, though the words he utters are usually of great import. The police chief and his deputy quickly learn to take what Reacher says seriously (after first checking him out, of course). Reacher can think like a bad guy, and he can also look at things from all angles, seeing the weak spots as well as the strengths in any situation. Itís impossible to look away as Reacher becomes attached to the witness, getting involved in her protection because heís not part of the police force and thus doesnít have to go help the prison.
I also enjoyed the flirtatious relationship that he forms with the woman who has assumed his old job as head of an elite military police section, whom he calls to get information on the former military installation that the bikers use as a base. It quickly becomes obvious that she is as quick a thinker as he is, though sheís willing to bow to his experience.
Child has a sparse prose style, though nowhere near as minimalist as Robert B. Parkerís. The dialogue is short and punchy like Parkerís, but Child is willing to spend some time describing the setting (hence the chill I felt) and whatís happening. Occasionally it sounds a bit clunky, as when Reacher goes off on a tangent about a subject who demonstrates just how easily heís able to think situations through. He sometimes seems to be showing off. Whether or not Child intended that impression, it becomes unappealing.
The book does an effective job of ratcheting up the tension by counting down the 61 hours from the beginning of the book until its climax. However, when the events that have been looming on the horizon for the entire book finally arrive, theyíre not really that special. It doesnít help that the novel seems to end on a cliffhanger - unless Child is pulling a G.M. Ford and leaving his readers hanging by putting his lead character into an impossible position and then moving on to something else.
No, Mr. Ford. I still havenít forgiven you, especially for doing it TWICE.
Still, 61 Hours is an enjoyable read, with characters youíll get to know and love because youíre just as snowbound as they are. Regardless of the disappointing ending, the rest of the book is worth it. I raced through it, needing to know what would happen next. Sadly, that wait will continue for a few months as well.