WHEN THE LIGHT GOES OUT
In this 16th book of the Reacher series, Lee Child takes us back to 1997 for the last case of Jack Reacher’s Army military police career. We get to read about, in exquisite detail, the events that led to his early and involuntary separation from the military. And we get to witness the exact moment when the light in his eyes – that desire to be a career army officer – goes out.
Janice May Chapman, an exceptionally beautiful woman, has been murdered, her throat slashed and her body drained of all its blood. Her body has been found in an alley beside a bar popular with the soldiers stationed at Fort Kelham in Carter Crossing, Mississippi. Ft. Kelham is a base that houses and trains two companies of special black ops Rangers and the manner of death is consistent with their methods.
Since the same kind of wound could have come from a hunter’s skinning knife and plenty of the locals are hunters, it would seem to be as much a civilian issue as a military one. However, the deceased woman is the very recent ex-girlfriend of Captain Reed Riley, one of the black ops company commanders. And to throw gasoline on the Army’s fire, Riley is the son of a U.S. Senator, specifically the Chairman of the Armed Services Committee. Therefore, the Army has both political and budgetary dogs in this fight and a potential public relations nightmare on its hands.
Within a day of the woman’s death, Army CID sends two of its best investigators to Carter Crossing. Major Duncan Munro, five years younger than Reacher and rumored to be just as good an investigator as Reacher, is sent publically to Ft. Kelham to investigate on the Army’s behalf. Reacher is sent in undercover to monitor the efforts of the local sheriff to solve the case and report said efforts back to Washington.
Unfortunately for the Army, Reacher’s cover is blown within minutes of meeting the sheriff. Instead of the backwoods, beer-bellied hick that Reacher had been led to expect, the sheriff is well-toned, well-educated and good looking. And the sheriff is not a “he,” it’s a “she.” On top of that, “she” is a former Marine CID investigator.
And even more unfortunate for the Army, the background of the sheriff is not their only point of ignorance. It seems that there have been two other murders in Carter Crossing within the past year with the exact same MO. Both victims were also beautiful women and both victims were former girlfriends of Captain Riley. But these women were poor, black and invisible while Chapman was independently wealthy, white and a former Senate employee.
For Reacher, his orders to “observe” and “evaluate” are synonymous with an order to “investigate.” After he reports these initial findings as well as some other nasty and incriminating current events back to his boss in Washington, Reacher learns that not only is the Army going to disassociate itself from those incidents, it is going to frame a local for the deaths. And the Army is deliberately going to let a serial killer go free, posted to an iceberg in Greenland, but still free. For Reacher, neither of these outcomes is acceptable, not personally and not within the Military Code of Justice.
We may be reading the story of Reacher’s last mission as an Army officer, but we are also reading about a great many firsts that will become the staple of his civilian life. We witness the first time Reacher puts a collapsible toothbrush in his pocket. We read about the first time he puts on civilian clothes. We read about the first time he travels by bus with no luggage and no ID. We read about the first time he hitchhikes just to get himself from point A to somewhere in the vicinity of point B. We witness the first time he buys new clothes and throws the old ones away instead of washing them. We watch him take off his watch and rely only on the infamous internal clock within his brain. We watch Major Jack Reacher become simply Reacher, the capable and talented nomad that we have come to respect and admire for over a dozen books.
Some readers think this entry to be a prequel since it concerns events that occurred prior to the first book in the series, “Killing Floor.” However, these events are not told as if they are part of a new and fresh story. Child has Reacher in the present day, recollecting events in the past that forever changed his life. And the reader knows this from the first page. Having an intimate understanding of just who and what Jack Reacher is inside, because you have read all the previous entries, is what makes this book such a memorable read. No, it’s not really a prequel. It is just a form of reckoning, an explanation of why one set of lights went out and a whole new set turned on.
Cover Art From Goodreads