Reviewed by Robert P. Moyer.
PAST TENSE. By Lee Child. Delacorte Press. 382 pages. $28.99.
Wow. It takes a good writer to drive a single plot competently down a path to a satisfying destination. It takes a gifted writer to wrangle two plots through a narrative to the end. It takes a genius like Lee Child, however, to herd five plot lines into the corral of a rousing conclusion. Five.
It all begins when Jack Reacher finds himself near his ancestral home — the New England town where his Dad was brought up. He stops by simply to see where his family lived. He avails himself of the help of a clerk in the records office and the town’s lawyer, to no avail. Of course, it’s not that simple, and he spends the rest of the book finding the long-gone village and the site of his family home.
Meanwhile, a young couple with a mysterious suitcase and a malfunctioning car end up in a motel that makes the Bates Motel look like kindergarten.
Meanwhile, Reacher manages to cross a property line and its owner in that inimitable fashion with which he has endeared himself to so many, so often. After that first altercation, he expects more.
Meanwhile, Reacher, light sleeper that he is, hears a cry for help in the middle of the night, a damsel in distress. A perfect chance for our knight with a bankcard in his shoe to step up. He almost literally disarms the loutish son of a local crime poobah. The local constabulary immediately tries to get Reacher out of town so that the out-of-town thugs they expect won’t cause any trouble.
Meanwhile, the clerk and lawyer have taken up with each other and disappeared. Circumstances lead Reacher to be concerned about the safety of the lawyer, whom the thugs may mistake for him.
Meanwhile — well, needless to say, multiple plot lines offer multiple opportunities for Reacher to demolish multiple bad guys. The lines all lead to the motel, of course. There, the female of the couple demonstrates that there’s a little Reacher in all of us, while she and Reacher work their way out.
But Jack goes back in. He isn’t finished. Author Child utilizes his protagonist’s proclivity to follow his curiosity to a conclusion, and to ignore warnings that he may be killed, creating havoc for others along the way. And what’s important? Finding out where he comes from, and why there’s a ghost who lives in town with his Dad’s name. There’s no mystery that Jack will resolve the mystery, or else. He ends up back on the highway, waiting for a ride into another mess not of his making — until he gets there.