No Plan B is the most recently published Jack Reacher novel. Ignore, as you should, that suspect line on the cover that refers to the New York Times Bestsellers Lists. This is classic Jack Reacher, regardless of many copies have been sold. I know that Lee Child and his brother Andrew Child co-wrote it, but I could not, for love or money, pick up where the one left off and the other continued. It is seamless, and the realistic-sounding dialogue, and the direct, very economical writing style (Very. Short. Sentences.) are the same as before.

Alan Ritchson as “Jack Reacher” in the Amazon TV show of the book series. He portrays the character perfectly.

The characters are the same types also – “Reacher” is as puritanical and staunchly principled as always, and can be beaten and tortured to within an inch of his life, but with one small decision and movement he will terminate whoever had captured him. And the antagonist in this case is also typical; downright maniacal but with his own peculiar logic and ethics, same as the ones in previous Reacher novels.

I almost felt sorry for him. After all, he is avenging the death of his drug addict son. He is out for revenge as much as Reacher is, but then, one guy is on the right side of the law the other one isn’t. It does raise the question: is torturing and killing criminals and the worst of the worst prison inmates justified? Does it even matter if you kill them? And if the answer depends on what the law says, what if the legal system itself is corrupt?

For me, all was right in the World of Jack Reacher while I was reading No Plan B. I was happy to have more of the same and no doubt, I will expect similar things from the next Jack Reacher novel. It set me thinking (while I was re-watching The 13th Warrior, made in 1999, for the I-don’t-know-how-many-eth time…) why do I love re-reading my favourite books, and re-watching my favourite films, and seeing my favourite characters? According to psychologists, I, all of us, do that for many reasons.

All the reasons for wanting more Reacher

Re-watching a movie or show you really enjoy, or re-reading an enjoyable book, can be a simple way of controlling your emotions when your world feels out of control. You know what to expect and what you will feel, and that affirms, subconsciously, that there is order in the world.

Also, repeating an experience that we have had in the past, whether reading, watching a film or visiting a place, can make us feel nostalgic, and nostalgia is comforting since whatever happened in the past cannot affect us now, nor can it be recovered. It puts some distance between us and whatever happened then. Nostalgia is the opposite to living in the present and having to deal with it.

Researchers have also found that the reduced effort required to process the information (since it is old, not new), could play a role. I have no doubt that the publishers and producers who come up with sequel after sequel understand this kind of thinking.

So, to sum up – I like Jack Reacher novels on repeat because I know what emotions I will feel, I know what to expect, and I enjoy the process. It feels orderly, proper, done right. I get nostalgic, thinking about all the other Jack Reacher novels, and happy because I can expect another good Jack Reacher book in the future. It’s not hard to read or process, and my ratty old brain can take a rest.

“We all need Jack Reacher, a righteous avenger for our troubled times.”

The statement, above, is on the cover of the UK edition of the novel, which was published by Random House UK on March 30, 2023. I think it’s quite appropriate.

No Plan B: A Jack Reacher Novel, by Lee Child and Andrew Child (Crime Action & Adventure, Publisher: ‎Delacorte Press, Oct. 25 2022, Hardcover, 368 pages)

Therefore, all things being equal, and much the same as before, what makes it particularly worth reading? That is, apart from the psychological reasons that I have listed above.

Two things: figuring out the mystery (the writers are fiendishly clever at this), and while doing so, simply enjoying the smooth and satisfying writing style that leads you to the rousing climax and clever resolution.

Ah yes, it is lovely that Reacher doesn’t change: the lady in distress, who he rescued, might try to tempt him, but that doesn’t work. He’s off again, alone, as always. Reacher is a man of few words, very few words, and has a dour sense of humour.

“He took out a knife. A small one. Its blade was only three inches long. But it was sharp. Designed for delicate work. Peeling. Mincing. Dicing. Reacher held it up for Hix to see. He said, ‘I watched you on the stage this morning. You looked like you were having fun. Like you loved the attention. The cameras. So tell me this: Would the cameras still love you if I slice your nose off and make you eat it?'”

Jack Reacher – No Plan B, by Lee Child and Andrew Child, p. 313

(When I read this I got a mental image of the Igor in Terry Pratchett’s novel The Fifth Elephant, who had a jar of noses. Live, human noses.)

The words and the subtext

An analyst on the YouTube channel of StudioBinder, made some very good points in a recent program on how subtext in movie scripts. Writing subtext into a script or novel is a technique used for many purposes, one of which is allowing “…the audience [or reader] to see through the surface level meaning of words and behaviors”. Lee Child and Andrew Child are very good at using subtext, considering that they write very economically.

For instance, in the quote, above, you look past the words, and imagine the knife being used to “mince” and “dice” the bad guy, “Hix”. They don’t say that Reacher will do it. Nor do they describe him doing it. They leave that to the reader’s imagination, and Reacher himself simply poses a question. The rest…well, that happens in the reader’s mind.

What you can learn

I learned a few interesting bits and pieces from the story: One is that you can, if you know stuff, like Reacher does, pull back the locks on a metal cell door with magnets made from a defibrillator. “McGyver” has nothing on this guy. He is a techno-boffin – with muscles.

Second, I found out what napalm is. I knew nothing about napalm other than that it had been used extensively in the Vietnam War by the Americans. Using napalm against civilian populations was banned by the UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) in 1980. The bad guy in the novel uses it as his calling card and it gives him a kick, since he really like fires and infernos. In the novel it’s described as a kind of cream-coloured, runny goop.

Napalm is an incendiary mixture of a gelling agent and a volatile petrochemical (usually petrol or diesel fuel). It burns extremely hot, sucks the oxygen from the air, and sticks like glue where it lands. It burns, and keeps on burning, for days, at temperatures ranging from 800 to 1,200 °C (1,470 to 2,190 °F). It’s a hell of a way to die. So that was a gruesome little lesson.

I also learned what extensive perversions can happen in a prison – not the attacks of prisoners on prisoners, or the mental and physical hardships endured by the inmates. I mean what can happen when the management of a prison is outsourced to a commercial firm that just wants to make money, and the staff go mad on power juice. Those scenes were certainly stomach-turning. What’s the message – infinite power corrupts infinitely?

Reacher gets himself into a situation where there really is only one option: killing everyone, and he has no plan B. Whatever he has to do, has to work. He survives, or course, and the bad guys die or get their comeuppance. And the Child & Child writing team was clever enough to draw out the suspense to the very last few pages.

I’m looking forward to the next Jack Reacher novel (the 28th one!), which will come out on October 24, 2023, called The Secret.

Next up: The Secret – A Jack Reacher Novel

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