Textured, swift and told in Reacher's inimitably tough voice, this title will convince those who still need convincing that Child has few peers in thrillerdom...
- Publishers Weekly
You’re in the Army now, son…
New Year’s Day, 1990. The Berlin Wall is coming down. The Cold War is ending. Soon America won’t have any enemies left. The Army won’t have anybody to fight. Things are going to change. Jack Reacher is the Military Police duty officer on a base in North Carolina when he takes a call reporting a dead soldier in a hot-sheets motel. Reacher tells the local cops to handle it—heart attacks happen all the time.
But why is Reacher in North Carolina, instead of Panama, where the action is? Then the dead man turns out to have been a two-star general who should have been in Europe. And when Reacher goes to the general’s house to break the news, he finds another corpse: the general’s wife. What is he dealing with here? The last echoes of the old world… or the first shocks of the new?
Winner of 2005 Nero, Barry and (yes, this is not a typo) Jack Reacher awards. The Nero Award, for literary excellence in the mystery genre, is awarded by The Wolfe Pack. The Barry Award for Best Novel of the Year is awarded by Deadly Pleasures magazine. The Jack Reacher Award win was the first annual award presented by Crime Spree Magazine and it was for the very readable, appealing-to-every-age, Jack Reacher novels!
As serious as a heart attack. Maybe those were Ken Kramer's last words, like a final explosion of panic in his mind as he stopped breathing and dropped into the abyss. He was out of line, in every way there was, and he knew it. He was where he shouldn't have been, with someone he shouldn't have been with, carrying something he should have kept in a safer place. But he was getting away with it. He was playing and winning. He was on top of his game. He was probably smiling. Until the sudden thump deep inside his chest betrayed him. Then everything turned around. Success became instant catastrophe. He had no time to put anything right.
Nobody knows what a fatal heart attack feels like. There are no survivors to tell us. Medics talk about necrosis, and clots, and oxygen starvation, and occluded blood vessels. They predict rapid useless cardiac fluttering, or else nothing at all. They use words like infarction and fibrillation, but those terms mean nothing to us. You just drop dead, is what they should say. Ken Kramer certainly did. He just dropped dead, and he took his secrets with him, and the trouble he left behind nearly killed me too.
I was alone in a borrowed office. There was a clock on the wall. It had no second hand. Just an hour hand, and a minute hand. It was electric. It didn't tick. It was completely silent, like the room. I was watching the minute hand, intently. It wasn't moving.
It moved. It jumped ahead six degrees. Its motion was mechanical and damped and precise. It bounced once and quivered a little and came to rest.
One down, one to go.
Sixty more seconds.
I kept on watching. The clock stayed still for a long, long time. Then the hand jumped again. Another six degrees, another minute, straight-up midnight, and 1989 was 1990.
I pushed my chair back and stood up behind the desk. The phone rang. I figured it was someone calling to wish me a happy new year. But it wasn't. It was a civilian cop calling because he had a dead soldier in a motel thirty miles off post.
"I need the Military Police duty officer," he said.
I sat down again, behind the desk.
"You got him," I said.
"We've got one of yours, dead."
"One of mine?"
"A soldier," he said.
"Motel, in town."
"Dead how?" I asked.
"Heart attack, most likely," the guy said.
I paused. Turned the page on the army-issue calendar on the desk, from December 31st to January 1st.
"Nothing suspicious?" I said.
"Don't see anything."
"You seen heart attacks before?"
"Lots of them."
"OK," I said. "Call post headquarters."
I gave him the number.
"Happy New Year," I said.
"You don't need to come out?" he said.
"No," I said. I put the phone down. I didn't need to go out. The army is a big institution, a little bigger than Detroit, a little smaller than Dallas, and just as unsentimental as either place. Current active strength is 930,000 men and women, and they are as representative of the general American population as you can get. Death rate in America is around 865 people per 100,000 population per year, and in the absence of sustained combat soldiers don't die any faster or slower than regular people. On the whole they are younger and fitter than the population at large, but they smoke more and drink more and eat worse and stress harder and do all kinds of dangerous things in training. So their life expectancy comes out about average. They die at the same speed as everyone else. Do the math with the death rate versus current strength, and you have twenty-two dead soldiers every single day of every single year, accidents, suicides, heart disease, cancer, stroke, lung disease, liver failure, kidney failure. Like dead citizens in Detroit, or Dallas. So I didn't need to go out. I'm a cop, not a mortician.
The clock moved. The hand jumped and bounced and settled. Three minutes past midnight. The phone rang again. It was someone calling to wish me a happy new year. It was the sergeant in the office outside of mine.
"Happy New Year," she said to me.
"You too," I said. "You couldn't stand up and put your head in the door?"
"You couldn't put yours out the door?"
"I was on the phone."
"Who was it?"
"Nobody," I said. "Just some grunt didn't make it to the new decade."
"You want coffee?"
"Sure," I said. "Why not?"
I put the phone down again. At that point I had been in more than six years, and army coffee was one of the things that made me happy to stay in. It was the best in the world, no question. So were the sergeants. This one was a mountain woman from north Georgia. I had known her two days. She lived off post in a trailer park somewhere in the North Carolina badlands. She had a baby son. She had told me all about him. I had heard nothing about a husband. She was all bone and sinew and she was as hard as woodpecker lips, but she liked me. I could tell, because she brought me coffee. They don't like you, they don't bring you coffee. They knife you in the back instead. My door opened and she came in, carrying two mugs, one for her and one for me.
"Happy New Year," I said to her.
She put the coffee down on my desk, both mugs.
"Will it be?" she said.
"Don't see why not," I said.
"The Berlin Wall is halfway down. They showed it on the television. They were having a big party out there."
"I'm glad someone was, somewhere."
"Lots of people. Big crowds. All singing and dancing."
"I didn't see the news."
"This all was six hours ago. The time difference."
"They're probably still at it."
"They had sledgehammers."
"They're allowed. Their half is a free city. We spent forty-five years keeping it that way."
"Pretty soon we won't have an enemy anymore."
I tried the coffee. Hot, black, the best in the world.
"We won," I said. "Isn't that supposed to be a good thing?"
"Not if you depend on Uncle Sam's paycheck."
She was dressed like me in standard woodland camouflage battledress uniform. Her sleeves were neatly rolled. Her MP brassard was exactly horizontal. I figured she had it safety-pinned in back where nobody could see. Her boots were gleaming.
"You got any desert camos?" I asked her.
"Never been to the desert," she said.
"They changed the pattern. They put big brown splotches on it. Five years' research. Infantry guys are calling it chocolate chip. It's not a good pattern. They'll have to change it back. But it'll take them another five years to figure that out."
"If it takes them five years to revise a camo pattern, your kid will be through college before they figure out force reduction. So don't worry about it."
"OK," she said, not believing me. "You think he's good for college?"
"I never met him."
She said nothing.
"The Army hates change," I said. "And we'll always have enemies."
She said nothing. My phone rang again. She leaned forward and answered it for me. Listened for about eleven seconds and handed me the receiver.
"Colonel Garber, sir," she said. "He's in D.C."
She took her mug and left the room. Colonel Garber was ultimately my boss, and although he was a pleasant human being it was unlikely he was calling eight minutes into New Year's Day simply to be social. That wasn't his style. Some brass does that stuff. They come over all cheery on the big holidays, like they're really just one of the boys. But Leon Garber wouldn't have dreamed of trying that, with anyone, and least of all with me. Even if he had known I was going to be there.
"Reacher here," I said.
There was a long pause.
"I thought you were in Panama," he said.
"I got orders," I said.
"From Panama to Fort Bird? Why?"
"Not my place to ask."
"When was this?"
"Two days ago."
"That's a kick in the teeth," he said. "Isn't it?"
"Panama was probably more exciting."
"It was OK," I said.
"And they got you working duty officer on New Year's Eve already?"
"I volunteered," I said. "I'm trying to make people like me."
"That's a hopeless task," he said.
"A sergeant just brought me coffee."
He paused. "Someone just call you about a dead soldier in a motel?"
"Eight minutes ago," I said. "I shuffled it off to headquarters."
"And they shuffled it off to someone else and I just got pulled out of a party to hear all about it."
"Because the dead soldier in question is a two-star general."
The phone went quiet.
"I didn't think to ask," I said.
The phone stayed quiet.
"Generals are mortal," I said. "Same as anyone else."
"There was nothing suspicious," I said. "He croaked, is all. Heart attack. Probably had gout. I didn't see a reason to get excited."
"It's a question of dignity," Garber said. "We can't leave a two-star lying around belly-up in public without reacting. We need a presence."
"And that would be me?"
"I'd prefer someone else. But you're probably the highest-ranking sober MP in the world tonight. So yes, it would be you."
"It'll take me an hour to get there."
"He's not going anywhere. He's dead. And they haven't found a sober medical examiner yet."
"OK," I said.
"Be respectful," he said.
"OK," I said again.
"Be polite," he said. "Off post, we're in their hands. It's a civilian jurisdiction."
"I'm familiar with civilians," I said. "I met one, once."
"But control the situation," he said. "You know, if it needs controlling."
"He probably died in bed," I said. "Like people do."
"Call me," he said. "If you need to."
"Was it a good party?"
"Excellent. My daughter is visiting."
He clicked off and I called the civilian dispatcher back and got the name and the address of the motel. Then I left my coffee on my desk and told my sergeant what was up and headed back to my quarters to change. I figured a presence required Class A greens, not woodland-pattern BDUs.
I took a Humvee from the MP motor pool and was logged out through the main gate. I found the motel inside fifty minutes. It was thirty miles due north of Fort Bird through dark undistinguished North Carolina countryside that was equal parts strip malls and scrubby forest and what I figured were dormant sweet potato fields. It was all new to me. I had never served there before. The roads were very quiet. Everyone was still inside, partying. I hoped I would be back at Bird before they all came out and started driving home. Although I really liked the Humvee's chances, head-on against a civilian ride.
The motel was part of a knot of low commercial structures clustered in the darkness near a big highway interchange. There was a truck stop as a centerpiece. It had a greasy spoon that was open on the holidays and a gas station big enough to take eighteen-wheelers. There was a no-name cinder block lounge bar with lots of neon and no windows. It had an Exotic Dancers sign lit up in pink and a parking lot the size of a football field. There were diesel spills and rainbow puddles all over it. I could hear loud music coming out of the bar. There were cars parked three-deep all around it. The whole area was glowing sulfurous yellow from the street lights. The night air was cold and there was fog drifting in layers. The motel itself was directly across the street from the gas station. It was a run-down swaybacked affair about twenty rooms long. It had a lot of peeling paint. It looked empty. There was an office at the left-hand end with a token vehicle porch and a buzzing Coke machine.
First question: why would a two-star general use a place like this? I was pretty sure there wouldn't have been a DoD inquiry if he had checked into a Holiday Inn. There were two town police cruisers parked at careless angles outside the motel's last-but-one room. There was a small plain sedan sandwiched between them. It was cold and misted over. It was a base-model Ford, red, four cylinder. It had skinny tires and plastic hubcaps. A rental, for sure. I put the Humvee next to the right-hand police cruiser and slid out into the chill. I heard the music from across the street, louder. The last-but-one room's lights were off and its door was open. I figured the cops were trying to keep the interior temperature low. Trying to stop the old guy from getting too ripe. I was anxious to take a look at him. I was pretty sure I had never seen a dead general before.
Three cops stayed in their cars and one got out to meet me. He was wearing tan uniform pants and a short leather jacket zipped to his chin. No hat. The jacket had badges pinned to it that told me his name was Stockton and his rank was deputy chief. I didn't know him. I had never served there before. He was gray, about fifty. He was medium height and a little soft and heavy but the way he was reading the badges on my coat told me he was probably a veteran, like a lot of cops are.
"Major," he said, as a greeting.
I nodded. A veteran, for sure. A major gets a little gold-colored oak leaf on the epaulette, one inch across, one on each side. This guy was looking upward and sideways at mine, which wasn't the clearest angle of view. But he knew what they were. So he was familiar with rank designations. And I recognized his voice. He was the guy who had called me, at five seconds past midnight.
"I'm Rick Stockton," he said. "Deputy Chief."
He was calm. He had seen heart attacks before.
"I'm Jack Reacher," I said. "MP duty officer tonight."
He recognized my voice in turn. Smiled.
"You decided to come out," he said. "After all."
"You didn't tell me the DOA was a two-star."
"Well, he is."
"I've never seen a dead general," I said.
"Not many people have," he said, and the way he said it made me think he had been an enlisted man.
"Army?" I asked.
"Marine Corps," he said. "First sergeant."
"My old man was a Marine," I said. I always make that point, talking to Marines. It gives me some kind of genetic legitimacy. Stops them from thinking of me as a pure army dogface. But I keep it vague. I don't tell them my old man had made captain. Enlisted men and officers don't automatically see eye to eye.
"Humvee," he said.
He was looking at my ride.
"You like it?" he asked.
I nodded. Humvee was everyone's best attempt at saying HMMWV, which stands for High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle , which about says it all. Like the army generally, what you're told is what you get.
"It works as advertised," I said.
"Kind of wide," he said. "I wouldn't like to drive it in a city."
"You'd have tanks in front of you," I said. "They'd be clearing the way. I think that would be the basic plan."
The music from the bar thudded on. Stockton said nothing.
"Let's look at the dead guy," I said to him.
He led the way inside. Flicked a switch that lit up the interior hallway. Then another that lit up the whole room. I saw a standard motel layout. A yard-wide lobby with a closet on the left and a bathroom on the right. Then a twelve-by-twenty rectangle with a built-in counter the same depth as the closet, and a queen bed the same depth as the bathroom. Low ceiling. A wide window at the far end, draped, with an integrated heater-cooler unit built through the wall underneath it. Most of the things in the room were tired and shabby and colored brown. The whole place looked dim and damp and miserable.
There was a dead man on the bed.
He was naked, face down. He was white, maybe pushing sixty, quite tall. He was built like a fading pro athlete. Like a coach. He still had decent muscle, but he was growing love handles the way old guys do, however fit they are. He had pale hairless legs. He had old scars. He had wiry gray hair buzzed close to his scalp and cracked weathered skin on the back of his neck. He was a type. Any hundred people could have looked at him and all hundred would have said army officer, for sure.
"He was found like this?" I asked.
"Yes," Stockton said.
Second question: How? A guy takes a room for the night, he expects privacy until the maid comes in the next morning, at the very least.
"How?" I said.
"How was he found? Did he call 911?"
I paused. I didn't see anything yet.
"Did you roll him over?" I said.
"Yes. Then we rolled him back."
"Mind if I take a look?"
"Be my guest."
I stepped over next to the bed and slipped my left hand under the dead guy's armpit and rolled him over. He was cold and a little stiff. Rigor was just setting in. I got him settled flat on his back and saw four things. First, his skin had a distinctive gray pallor. Second, shock and pain were frozen on his face. Third, he had grabbed his left arm with his right hand, up near the bicep. And fourth, he was wearing a condom. His blood pressure had collapsed long ago and his erection had disappeared and the condom was hanging off, mostly empty, like a translucent flap of pale skin. He had died before reaching orgasm. That was clear.
"Heart attack," Stockton said, behind me.
I nodded. The gray skin was a good indicator. So was the evidence of shock and surprise and sudden pain in his upper left arm.
"Massive," I said.
"But before or after penetration?" Stockton said, with a smile in his voice.
I looked at the pillow area. The bed was still completely made. The dead guy was on top of the counterpane and the counterpane was still tight over the pillows. But there was a head-shaped dent, and there were rucks where elbows and heels had scrabbled and pushed lower down.
"She was underneath him when it happened," I said. "That's for sure. She had to wrestle her way out."
"Hell of a way for a man to go."
I turned around. "I can think of worse ways."
Stockton just smiled at me.
"What?" I said.
He didn't answer.
"No sign of the woman?" I said.
"Hide nor hair," he said. "She ran for it."
"The desk guy see her?"
Stockton just smiled again.
I looked at him. Then I understood. A low-rent dive near a highway interchange with a truck stop and a strip bar, thirty miles north of a military base.
"She was a hooker," I said.
© Lee Child
- The latest entry in what is arguably today's finest thriller series flashes back to series hero Jack Reacher's days in the military police. . . Unlike recent Reacher tales, the novel is as much mystery as thriller, but the tension is nonstop. There's a strong personal element as well, involving Reacher's relationship with his brother and dying mother, which will make the novel of particular interest to longstanding fans of the series. Textured, swift and told in Reacher's inimitably tough voice, this title will hit lists and will convince those who still need convincing that Child has few peers in thrillerdom.
—Publishers Weekly, starred review
- Fabulously suspenseful prequel... Child has turned away from formulaic high-jinks to explore his characters instead: The result? His best so far.
—Kirkus, starred review
- Jack Reacher novels pack a 'Dirty Harry' wallop, with their steely, no-nonsense hero given to terse but effective forms of self-expression. Say what you will about the man's tactics, he has a knack for sizing up human nature and getting his job done. In a world full of changing boundaries and moral ambiguities, he emerges as a classic noir loner, and a very charismatic one, despite his willingness and ability to inflict damage on those who he thinks deserve it. It is worth underscoring that these books, while crackling with assertiveness, do not present Reacher as a loose cannon. They avoid the ugliness of an action hero with too free a hand. [This is] lean, dynamic storytelling.
—Janet Maslin, The New York Times
- Lee Child's bullet-train thrillers about Jack Reacher couldn't be much more hell-for-leather than they already are. They can be enjoyed simply as superior action stories, with their muscular prose and elegantly simple plots; but the complexity of their star makes them especially rewarding. Reacher, an ex-military cop turned drifting loner, is the thinking reader's action hero, a surprisingly tender combination of chess master and G.I. Joe, a guy who always thinks six or eight steps ahead before making his move.
- Known for his hold-your-breath action scenes, Child proves equally adept at portraying how a criminal investigation uses the smallest of building blocks... to construct a compelling circumstantial case. Combine that with finely textured relationships—always an extra dimension in this series—and you have a novel that takes Child in a new direction... but does so flawlessly.
— Booklist, starred review
- Child knocked this one out of the ballpark. ...a rip-roaring read from the first page to the last.
— St. Petersburg Times
Reacher is still one of the two or three most compelling figures in the new hard-guy, lone-wolf genre. The pages almost turn themselves.
—New York Daily News
- The eighth novel in the series will enthrall Reacher's many fans.... The Enemy sizzles with suspense and action. Child sets a breathless pace laced with laconic asides from the opening paragraph to the final line.
— Orlando Sentinel
The Enemy sizzles with suspense and action. Child sets a breathless pace laced with laconic asides from the opening paragraph to the final line.
— Wichita Eagle
- Lee Child, considered by some to be the best thriller writer in the business, has created an alter ego in Jack Reacher, who, like Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan or even Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch, succeeds because we either want to be him, or to be with him when our back is against the wall.
Child builds suspense in a deceptively spare, wiry prose style that doesn't waste a word or miss a trick.