Make Me
A novel by Lee Child
Book review by Jules Brenner
Delacorte Press, released 9/8/15, 416 pp., $28.99
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For Reacher's 20th time out on the road, Lee Child introduces a slight variation to shake up his lone traveler's customary format: a traveling companion. A woman. More on her ahead.

Chapter One introduces us to the kind of charming people Reacher will meet and contend with on this journey. Two gruff men are in the act of burying a big guy named Keever. It's a midnight grave-digging mission with a backhoe. They're using the machine to scoop out a deep grave under the hog pen on a farmer's land in a small agricultural town.

The kindest thing about this act was the appeearance that they wanted to keep the corpse out of the reach of the two-hundred pound critters that would be rooting and honking above. But, such sensitivity is as alien to these two as a walk on Mars. The purpose of this burial project is to make sure no federal search party will ever find the dead agent.

The best laid plans, of course, hardly ever go perfectly right. The intention behind starting at midnight was to make sure no one would be awake to hear or see them. They had no way of knowing that the train (a constant and important Child leitmotif -- see "The Affair"), was running five hours late because of a mechanical breakdown. It was just fate that it rolled by at the crossing while they were in the middle of their secret work.

But that ominous coincidence is nothing compared to the arrival of the stranger on the train.

Reacher, in his mode of going nowhere special, curious to a fault, was intrigued by the town's name: Mother's Rest. Marveling at its status as a railroad stop, he had reached the conclusion that he'd like to find out what gave the place its name and apparent importance.

Stepping off the train and walking to the exit, he marvels at the agricultural infrastructure and, then, from the periphery of his vision, catches a woman stepping toward him as though to greet an expected arrival. This would be the worried Michelle Chang, P.I.

Finding her to be ex-FBI, ex-patrol cop (and not unattractive), the meet leads to a partnership in cracking the town's aloofness and web of mystery, like where Keever is. Neither knows much about the place but both are struck by local townfolk's false pretentions masking hostility. Something here is amiss. Something morbidly threatening.

Which is why this becomes a trek to lay secrets bare and expose layers of misdirection and hints of nightmarish partial truths. The trail of clues takes the pair on a merry chase, to Chicago, LA, San Francisco and Phoenix.

Teaming up with a computer consultant, they find the town's website presence in a deeply buried level of the internet, the "Deep-web," where sites are coded to avoid search engines or searches of any kind. The purposes vary but criminal activity may well explain Mother's Rest website in this dark zone.

But, what confounds Reacher and Chang, is that what's being promoted on the town's web pages doesn't explain the big money operation going on. How do they finance and operate the relatively posh motel out in this desert wilderness, for example? Besides the FBI and intruders like Reacher, who is the normal clientele? And, who is ordering the one-eyed clerk to watch Reacher and Chang's door throughout the night?

When Reacher makes it clear that he's not going away without answers and without finding what happened to Keever, things get rough. But it gets down to the Reacher Rule: "If you want me to stop, you're going to have to make me." Even spending time in the hospital for his injuries isn't going to budge him.

It does, however, make for a great title if not one of Child's most characteristic and relevant.

Given Reacher's character and modus operandi, it should come as no surprise that his regard for his female partner affects his behavior. He's courtly, gentle and sharing, never asking her to do anything she doesn't want to do and helping her do what she does want.

Which says much about Jack's respectfulness toward women. It's possible that Reacher's iconic status in crime fiction has much to do with the author's sense of civility in constructing tough-guy challenges within underlying emotional contexts. Chang causes Jack to explain the moral pragmatism he follows when, with a bullet or a choke hold, he rids the planet of another evil actor without apologizing for it.

Reacher has never been a paragon of correctness but, rather, a crime-fighter who will get the job of justice done when someone's getting away with murder. -- a charismatic vigilante on the right side of the line. And, if his 20-episode history seems formulaic, I'd credit Child with a variation in his hero's relationships.

If you don't yet own Make Me and would like to purchase it (usually at a sizable discount), click here.