Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Without Fail by Lee Child

At the end of this thriller's first chapter a woman, who's been able to track down Jack Reacher, tells him, "I want you to assassinate the Vice President."

If you enjoy thrillers and have never read one of Lee Child's Jack Reacher novels, I envy the pleasure you have ahead. Reacher is larger than life, almost unbelievable. Almost but not quite. He's big, strong, and smart. He's a former major in the US Army Military Police, so he knows weapons and investigative techniques, is a crack shot. He has no ties to anyone or anything (his brother dies in the first book in the series, The Killing Floor, a decision I suspect Child now regrets because the brother could have been useful in later books).

Jack has no permanent place of residence, carries no luggage except a toothbrush (when his clothes get dirty, he throws them away and buys new), wanders the country seeing the sights he missed when he was in the military. He's virtually always the smartest guy in the room. He's a remorseless killer, but he kills only in self-defense or villains who deserve it. He's The Lone Ranger without Tonto because he usually works—and prefers to work—alone. People come to him with insuperable problems. Jack solves their problems as bodies pile up along the way.

The woman who's asked Jack to assassinate the Vice President-Elect in Without Fail is the Secret Service agent in charge of the Vice President's protection detail. What she really wants is to see whether the protection is good enough; could an assassin slip through? For reasons I won't go into, but which make sense in the book's context, she knows that if her team could frustrate Jack Reacher, it could frustrate any assassin. Jack has a week to test the Secret Service's procedures.

At the end of the week, Jack shows the woman and her boss, the head of the Secret Service, an assassin could have killed the Vice President on three occasions. A fourth if the wind were right. The Secret Service will have to do better. Especially because the Vice President-Elect has been receiving credible death threats.

Who would want to kill a Vice President-Elect? How has someone been able to smuggle a threatening paper into the pristine office of the head of the Secret Service? Will Jack be able to eliminate the threat in a way that protects the reputation of the Secret Service? How many bodies are going to pile up before we find out? It's a lot of fun.

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