Six shots, five dead. The evidence is overwhelming and points towards a lone gunman, James Barr. Yet, during questioning, Barr says only one thing: “Get Jack Reacher for me.”
Anyone familiar with Lee Child’s work and his rugged anti-hero will be well aware that Reacher is intended to emulate an unstoppable force, a rogue in the mould most 80s action heroes were gleaned from. Odd then, to see the character played by Tom Cruise in the recent movie adaptation (imaginatively titled Jack Reacher). Yet the deliberate vagueness of the character’s enigmatic persona tends to be the author’s major trump card: it’s generally easier for the reader to imprint something of themselves on a protagonist who is, ultimately, a blank slate.
But cheesy macho heroism aside, is One Shot any good? In short, yes, but it’s not without its problems. For the most part the novel is a cracker, with Child’s trademark ability of excellent pacing ever present. Whilst he tends to revel in moments of sheer lunacy (Child is ever consistent at using deus-ex machina when the plot backs itself into a corner), a good three quarters of One Shot is unputdownable. It’s always fascinating to read Reacher at work. The man has a Jason Bourne-like ability to out-think his assailants even in the most hopeless of situations and, whilst his actions can be morally dubious at times, he never loses sight of what’s right.
However, the problem with One Shot comes in the third act, where careful and tightly wound plotting makes way to convenience and silliness. We see cunningly hidden information and evidence that has been near impossible to attain for much of the narrative miraculously appear via a few handy clicks in a search engine. It smells of laziness and by the time Reacher and his motley team of helpers ambush the bad guy’s farmhouse, you can’t help but feel somewhat robbed, denied a truly satisfying and intelligent conclusion in favour of a clichéd bombastic climax that somewhat undermines what came before.
But there is no denying that, for the most part, One Shot works very well, despite the third act misstep. If you’ve never read any Lee Child before, it’s not a bad place to start.
Also Read: The Affair. Set six months before the events of Killing Floor, it’s a great example of how Child can avoid gung-ho heroism in favour of thoughtful and well plotted conspiracy.