Book Review: No Middle Name by Lee Child (part 1)

To give myself time to get caught up in my reading, and to get some blogs scheduled ahead of time like I’m used to doing, I’ll be reviewing “No Middle Name” by Lee Child in two installments. I’ll be doing the same with Matchup. It also makes sense to me to do this with these kinds of collections, since I’m basically reviewing each story instead of one long story.

“No Middle Name” is a collection of Jack Reacher short stories. All of them, actually. It’s fucking awesome. I mean, what Reacher fan wouldn’t love this? Instead of taking an entire book to see how clever he is, we get short bursts of his brilliance. It’s a quick gratification from a character that I really dig.

You know those tiny little roller coasters you’ll see at traveling carnivals? They don’t really have room to set up a huge, full-size coaster like you’d see at Six Flags or Disney Parks. So they set up little dinky ones that are mostly just a few hills and maybe one upside-down loop on a track that’s more or less an oval if seen from above. They’re extra scary though because they’re so small. The turns are harder, the loop is more terrifying. You wonder—can there possibly be enough time to build up the required momentum for this trip upside down?

Oh, but there is. You feel squished into your seat as you take on a whole new perspective of the world for just a second. Then it’s gone.

That’s what these stories are. They’re a tiny, extra thrilling rollercoaster ride. You can try to delude yourself into believing that they won’t be as good because they’re short. But you’d be wrong. These stories have momentum, they have a backstory, they are well paced, and they are so fucking exciting.

“Too Much Time” is the first story in the book. We find Reacher up in Maine, wandering as he does. He happens to witness a purse snatching and he’s in just the right place at just the right time to help the cops stop the thief. He bumps the guy with his hip and knocks him to the ground. The cops want him to come in and give a statement on what he saw. They say it won’t take too much time.

Reacher reluctantly goes to the shabby police station and ends up in an interrogation room. His words get twisted, a guy from the state police sticks his nose into things, and they start to accuse Reacher of stealing twenty grand in cash from the bag the purse snatcher had grabbed. They stick him in a jail cell.

At this point, I’m long hooked on the story. I can’t fathom how he’s going to get himself out of this situation, though I know he’ll find a way. He always does, and that’s why we love him. Tragedy can and has befallen him, just as it does to us all, but he always manages to come out on top somehow. His wit, patience, and determination are shown over and over again as he manages his way through the obstacles in his way.

What makes these stories even more thrilling to me is knowing that Lee doesn’t outline or plot. He has no idea how it’s going to end when he starts writing it. This seems to add a real rollercoaster effect, as bad shit keeps happening. It’s like—he gets painted into a corner and has to use his inventiveness to get out of it. It’s freaking fantastic. I really love this character.

“Second Son” is the second story in the book. (haha) It takes place in 1974, shortly before the death of Reacher’s grandfather. The old man is in France, trying to contact his daughter. The Reacher Family is mid-move from Guam to Okinawa. As soon as they get a phone in their new island home, Mrs. Reacher rushes back to France to be with her father before he dies. The family goes with her to the airport to see her off.

While all of this is happening, the other Reacher men—Jack’s father and brother—are both being accused of stealing important binders. A valuable, top secret binder has gone missing from Stan Reacher’s office. And a binder of test answers has gone missing from the school. Joe Reacher is the only suspect. Thirteen-year-old Jack Reacher is already cunning and brilliant. He outwits a bully, beats up three guys at once, and solves all of the mysteries.

While reading this particular story, I was at the airport, waiting for an airplane to show up so I could go home from ThrillerFest. My niece was sitting beside me. She also happened to be reading the same book. We were both on the same story, even though we have different reading speeds. We kept gasping, then looking at each other’s pages, and saying, “That was freaking awesome.” Much to the bewilderment of others around us, we kept bursting out with short bouts of singing, “Tiny Jack Reacher, tiny Jack Reacher.”**

“High Heat” is the third story in this collection. It’s still the 70’s, but Reacher is a little older now. He’s sixteen, passing through New York City on his way to visit Joe at West Point. Already being the stand-up-guy that he is, he defends a woman he sees getting slapped and groped in public. Turns out, the guy doing the slapping is a big-time mobster. He doesn’t take too kindly to being beaten up by some nobody-kid and swears he’ll have him killed.

Did I mention that the woman is a disgraced FBI agent? Yeah. She tells Reacher to get out of town. Not only is this asshole a made-man with a dozen brutes at his beck and call, it is also the Summer of Sam in New York City. There’s a dangerous killer on the loose. Reacher is not concerned. He knows he can take care of himself.

He sets off to find himself a lovely coed to spend the evening with. He meets a girl in a café, asks her about live music in the area, and the two of them set off to a shady neighborhood. Inside the dingy club, Reacher spots the FBI agent, as well as a goon who is obviously calling in to his boss that Reacher has shown up in their territory.

Ever the clever one, he is able to disable the bad guy with a beer bottle, leaving Reacher and the ladies a brief window of opportunity for escape. While they’re making their way down the narrow corridor to the front exit, the mobster and more of his goons enter the door, ready to attack him.

Then the lights go out.

Adventure ensues.

I loved this story. I was a bit shocked by the end. I mean, Lee has a way of always surprising the reader at the end, but this one just came out of nowhere. Fucking fantastic! When I can’t see it coming, it makes me even more thrilled when the shoe drops.

As I write this review, I’m about a third of the way into the fifth story, so I’ll write about four stories in each review. I’d considered just leaving it as this, but the fourth story makes me realize that not every Reacher story is for me. And I can’t. I can’t leave the whole thing on a bad note.

“Deep Down” is the fourth tale in this collection. The action parts were exciting and well written. But in this story, Reacher is still in the military and he’s on an undercover assignment. His files are altered and he pretends to be a sniper so he can figure out which woman in this group is actually a spy, feeding secret info to the enemy. The trouble is, one of the women has died in a freak accident before he can even meet her.

Because this story happens while he’s still in the service, it doesn’t interest me as much. There is a lot of jargon and a few abbreviations that I’m not familiar with. It’s a good story, but definitely a better story for someone who likes military thrillers.

“Small Wars” is the fifth and final story I’ll be reviewing from this collection today. I’ll review the last seven next Saturday. It also takes place while Reacher is still in the military. Shockingly enough, it starts out with Joe Reacher murdering a woman who’s on the fast track to the top. Jack Reacher gets assigned to investigate. Of course, no one knows it was Joe. And of course, his wicked clever brother is able to piece together the puzzle and figure out what his big bro has done.

So far, I’m really digging this book. I can’t wait to finish it. Check back next week to hear about the rest of the stories in this collection. In two weeks, I’ll begin to review “Matchup” an anthology written by about two dozen ITW authors. I can’t wait to read about Temperance Brennen working with Jack Reacher!


**Come back on Wednesday to read my blog about ThrillerFest and the Thriller Awards Banquet. I’ll be including a video of the Beatles medley/parody that was dedicated to Lee Child.