I enjoyed the last book I read so much that this one seemed like something of a letdown. To be fair, Lee Child has sold a ton of Jack Reacher mystery-thrillers and it is actually a perfectly acceptable potboiler. If not exactly the most difficult mystery to unravel, it was an enjoyable enough ride.
The conceit of this book, and all the other books in the series, is the hero’s existence. Jack Reacher is a former military policeman from a homicide investigation unit. He’s a very tall, strong man and both smart and able to read hand-to-hand combat situations with clinical detail. He has left the Army behind him and wanders the U.S. carrying only minimal identification, considerable amounts of money (I presume in the form of an ATM card rather than cash) and the clothes on his back; he simply discards his clothes when he’s done with them and buys new ones. It’s not clear where his financial resources come from; presumably that has something to do with some extraordinary aspect of his military service.
In this book, which I understand is the first in the series, Reacher travels to a small town in Georgia where he stumbles almost instantly into a series of brutal murders. Himself a suspect initially, he uses both his wits and his mad hand-to-hand combat skillz to first escape suspicion, then learn shocking facts about the murders and the plot behind them, and finally to give the bad guys what they’ve got coming.
The lead character himself is interesting and well-constructed; there is some depth to him. Another character, Detective Finley, is also given some depth. Unfortunately, no other character really is; there are a lot of cardboard cut-outs. The plot has some holes and elements that are not all that believable.
But on the other hand, the point of this novel is not to be Great Literature. It’s entertainment. Killing Floor would be an excellent airplane book — it’s a reasonably fast read, so you can make a lot of progress on it in the two hours you’re waiting around to board the plane and the three to four hours you’ll be airborne. You won’t feel too bad if you have to put it down at some point and by about halfway through, you’d prefer not to. Not because you won’t have figured everything out or seen the end elements coming: you’ll get the mandatory double-cross, the mandatory wondering about the girl’s loyalty, the mandatory twist in the bad guys’ plot, and the mandatory climactic fight once the hero Figures It All Out. (There’s even some deconstruction of that last element, which I actually liked quite a bit.) No, there’s nothing original here. But it’s well-done.
The author is British, but he has chosen an American hero and sets the novel in somewhere distinctly American. He shows a good feel for American history and culture, but occasionally his British roots show. Most interestingly, the hero refers to drinking “pints” of beer or water — I don’t know many Americans who refer to “pints” all that much. We drink “glasses” of draft beer, not “pints.” The novel’s pre-9/11 roots show, particularly in scenes set in the Atlanta airport, in which non-passengers are allowed in the terminal. But on the other hand, Child has either done good research into American culture or has a deep affinity for it; in this novel, considerable interest in roots blues music and the feel of life in a small, desegregated southern town are nicely demonstrated.
If you’re a fast reader, you might get all the way through Killing Floor before touchdown on the other coast, and will have had an enjoyable read along the way. I’ll keep Jack Reacher in mind the next time I’ve got to fly somewhere.