Skeletons in the Reacher Family Closet

lee child past tense


Lee Child learned style from Hemingway. Or maybe from Elmore Leonard or Dashiell Hammett. He writes short, clean, sometimes incomplete but straight-to-the-point sentences. Brief paragraphs, plus almost as short episodic sections consisting of alternating points of view. Except when he writes long action sequences with lots of ands and Reacher did this and that and then his opponents fall down like flies after being sprayed with insecticide. Reacher gets knocked down, too, and instantly he’s back on his feet again. To stay down long means to die.

Hope for the best, plan for the worst.

Although the writing is often sparse and minimalist, it’s also detail-rich. Child pays close attention to tiny details, and so does protagonist Jack Reacher.

Past Tense (Delacorte Press/Random House, November 15, 2018) is Child’s 22nd Reacher thriller.

Patty Sundstrom and Shorty Fleck are a Canadian potato farmer and a timber sawmill worker on their way to NYC to sell something valuable enough to raise sufficient capital to start a new life in Florida. When their old car breaks down in the woods near Laconia, NH, not far from where Reacher’s father Stan was born and raised, they plan to spend only one night. Little do they know they might be trapped there for the rest of their lives.

Jack Reacher, walking and thumbing his way across America, sees a sign for Laconia and decides to visit the town where his father allegedly  grew up. Of course, nothing is ever simple in a Jack Reacher novel. Hope for the best, plan for the worst.

It’s been said that Reacher walks where angels fear to tread. Whenever he encounters a wrong, he feels duty-bound by his own internal code of honor to set it right. Whenever he finds a bully picking on an underdog, he has to step in. He’s a giant of a man, both literally and figuratively.

And when he gets mad, all hell can break loose.

Those are traits he inherited from his father.

Faithful readers will find many of the elements they expect in a great Reacher novel in the 400 pages of Past Tense: an intriguing  mystery to solve (several, actually); plenty of broken noses and broken bones; bodies piled up like cordwood (some dead, others merely knocked unconscious); a beautiful female cop who proves not only extremely competent but an excellent foil for Reacher to toy with; plenty of bad guys and a few good guys Reacher needs to protect; a realistic threat to life and limb; and a get-out-of-town deadline. What makes Past Tense different, however, is the number of previously-unknown Reachers that may or may not be closely related to Jack.

Like all the other Lee Child novels, I couldn’t put this book down. The dramatic tension and anticipation of violence kept me devouring words. Learning more about the Reacher family was icing on the cake. Highly recommended.


Lee and me at Thrillerfest. I’m the guy wearing glasses.




Hate Kills

I don’t normally openly comment on politics. I hide my personal political views within the actions of my fictional characters. I usually try to show both sides of a story as I explicate some of what I think are the real reasons for every conflict. Few things are ever simple in this universe. That is certainly true of politics.

Full disclosure: I am a member of the National Rifle Association. I have been an NRA member on and off since I was a young teen, some sixty years ago. I joined the NRA to learn the rules of gun safety.

I first learned to shoot in the Boy Scouts of America. As I grew older, I fired on the ROTC Varsity Rifle team at Rockford East High School and the Varsity Rifle Team at the University of Illinois, earning varsity letters. Shooting in competition is considered a competitive sport even by the Olympics, and I fired at fixed targets in competition, beginning with .22 caliber Remingtons and Winchester 52Ds in high school and college, and graduating to high-powered M1 Garands, M14s, and M16s when I became an enlisted man and then a Reserve Warrant Officer in the U. S. Army. I fired in Fifth Army, Fourth Army, and ARCOM match competitions. I served as a range officer and weapons training officer. Gun safety was always paramount in my mind. Friendly fire could be as deadly as enemy fire.

Although no longer in the Army, I continued my NRA membership to keep abreast of the latest in firearms technology which I use to make my novels seem as realistic as possible. I recently competed an NRA sponsored handgun safety course to qualify for concealed carry. I don’t carry and never bothered to apply for a permit. I don’t need a gun to kill someone, as my Instruments of Death novels prove. There are millions of ways in the naked city to kill another person, and a gun is only one of them.

True firearms enthusiasts know to put safety first. They place trigger locks on all weapons (or keep them broken down) when not on the range. They never load a weapon until they are ready to fire. Most competent firearms owners store firearms and ammunition in locked safes or vaults. Loaded firearms need to be kept out of the hands of unsupervised children, convicted felons, and mentally unbalanced adults.

I applaud and support NRA training in firearms safety and in hosting national competitions. I condemn and abhor the fear tactics the NRA uses to raise money.

Today I received a form letter from NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre. The NRA has declared war on Hillary Clinton.

“Mark my words.” Lapierre says in his letter. “In these next 148 days, you are going to witness the most dishonest, vicious, hate-filled anti-gun campaign that you’ll see in your lifetime.”

The letter goes on to say the battle lines are drawn. The NRA needs my help and financial support. Do they want me to become as dishonest, vicious, and hate-filled as their avowed enemies? The letter sure as hell sounded like it!

Most despicable of all (although brilliant in its own way and in its emotional impact) is this image: “Hillary Clinton is going to blame you personally for senseless murders committed by armed thugs who should have been behind bars. She’s going to point to the most heinous crimes ever committed in this country, and claim that you’re to blame because you choose to own a gun. She’s going to stand shamelessly behind a phalanx of armed guards, and tell you that you have no right to protect your home and family.”

Please, Hillary, tell me it isn’t so. Tell me you don’t blame me personally.

There are enough broken things in this country that need fixing, and gun violence is only one of them. Congress needs fixing. Our roads and bridges need fixing. The pension crisis in this country needs fixing, as does the health care system. Make compromises that can accommodate everyone regardless of race, religion, or political affiliation.

Instead of pointing fingers and fixing blame, let’s all work together and get something done. Let’s make compromises we can live with.

Instead of feeling like politicians have my back, I now feel like I’m about to become a victim of friendly fire. I’m caught in the middle while both sides are taking pot-shots at each other. That is not a comfortable feeling, my friends, and this hate-filled political rhetoric has to stop.

I believe it was hate-filled rhetoric that caused the killings in Orlando. Guns may be the means by which hate crimes are carried out, but it is hate that kills. I don’t want to ban free-speech any more than I want to ban guns, but this kind of “us” versus “them” hatred has to stop. Period.