book reviews

Bad Luck and Trouble (May, 2007) by Lee Childs.

In many ways, Jack Reacher is stubbornly married to the idea of living an unexamined life. He's no Platonic scholar. He wanders the country, kicking ass, and then at the end of any of these books, he just wanders off into the sunset to some new destination. Introspection is not part of his repertoire.

However in this 11th book in the series, surrounded by his old MP friends from the service, Reacher realizes several things. First, that he actually does have friends. Second, that he has missed them and the camaraderie they shared back when they were a unit. Reacher also is forced to consider the idea that maybe the choices he’s made since he left the Army were bad ones. Would he have a fuller life if he wasn't isolated and alone? If you've read other books in this series, I bet you can guess the answer he comes up with by the end of the book.

This is my favorite book in the series so far. Reacher isn't as alienated and violent this time out due to having friends that he can trust around him. I find the change in writing by Childs evocative since it gives more depth to Reacher, but don't mistake that for increased sensitivity--and don't mess with his toothbrush, dammit.

My only problem with the book was that Childs uses it for several PETA plugs. Since I work in medical research, my tolerance for PETA is quite low. There's a few minor plot problems but they're big picture things that don't affect either the action or storyline at all. I highly recommend this novel to anyone that likes simple uncluttered action novels.

Here's a short intro from the author that I read on Amazon:

Two years ago I was on a book tour, promoting that year's new Jack Reacher novel, One Shot. One particular night, the event was held in a small town outside of Chicago. The date was June 21st. As I was giving my talk and answering questions and signing books, that date was nagging away at the back of my mind. I knew it had some significance. I started panicking--had I forgotten my anniversary? No, that's in August. My wife's birthday? No, that's in January. My own birthday? No, that's in October.

Then suddenly I remembered--it was ten years to the day since I had been fired from my previous job. That was why and how I had become a writer. That night in Illinois was a ten-year anniversary of a different sort, somewhat bittersweet.

And ten is a nice round number. So I started thinking about my old colleagues. My workmates, my buddies. We had been through a lot together. I started to wonder where they all were now. What were they doing? Were they doing well, or struggling? Were they happy? What did they look like now? Pretty soon I was into full-on nostalgia mode. Ten-year anniversaries can do that to a person. I think we all share those kind of feelings, about high school, or college, or old jobs we've quit, or old towns we've moved away from.

So I decided to make this year's Jack Reacher book about a reunion. I decided to throw him back among a bunch of old colleagues that he hadn't seen for ten years, people that he loved fiercely and respected deeply. Regular Reacher readers will know that he's a pretty self-confident guy, but I wanted him to wobble just a little this time, to compare his choices with theirs, to measure himself against them.

The renewed get-together isn't Reacher's own choice, though. And it's not a standard-issue reunion, either. Something very bad has happened, and one of his old team-members from the army contacts him, by an ingenious method (it's hard to track Reacher down). She gives him the bad news, and asks him to do something about it. He says, "Of course I'll do something about it."

"No," his friend says. "I mean, I want you to put the old unit back together."

It's an irresistible invitation. Wouldn't we all like to do that, sometimes? --Lee Child

This next book, on the other hand, sucks. I finished it but it took 2 weeks because I kept putting it down due to the need for "recovery" time.

The Testament (2006) by Eric Van Lustbader.

Late in the novel the protagonist, Braverman "Bravo" Shaw, has an encounter with a Russian guard. Bravo breaks the fellow's nose, then he breaks the guy's cheekbone but the guy fights on undeterred--Bravo then, near death from the asphyxiation hold the Russian has on him, pulls out a small flashlight from his pants pocket and shines it in the Russian assassin's eyes.

"The Russian, blinded, staggered back, slammed into the opposite wall."

The book is chock full of crap like that. Can you imagine a guy that can take the bones of his face being pulverized with equanimity but then collapses 'cause a 5 dollar flashlight is aimed at him?

I'm ashamed to say that I read the book to the end. It's poorly written and quite stupid in plot but like with The DaVinci Code you want to see what happens next. I'd recommend this book for masochists and people that like either treasure hunt type books (where clues dictate where the protagonist goes next as villains dog his/her trail) or mystical religious artifact based novels. But be warned, the dialog is so stilted that it boggles the mind and the characters--never Lustbaders's strong suit--are so 2-dimensional that they're actually campy.

I'm going to drop a number of Plot Spoilers so if you want to read The Testament, don't scroll down below the pretty picture that follows this. By the way, that's the first picture I've posted taken with my new Olympus Stylus 750 camera. Don't those Hershey Kisses look good?!

Imagine this. There's a couple of unknown religious orders that stemmed from St Francis of Assisi. One, the Order of Gnostic Observantines, is safe-guarding a testament of Jesus and an ointment that was used to resurrect Jesus. The other order, the Knights of St. Clement of the Holy Blood, due to indirect Papal influence, is desperate to exterminate the first order and retrieve their treasures and to use the ointment to save the life of the Pope who is dying. Now imagine that both orders have been fighting and killing one another off for over 500 years--and nobody outside those orders has noticed.

Enter Braverman "Bravo" Shaw, a man estranged from his father since his early 20s but now, in his 30s, his father, Dexter Shaw is killed by a suspicious explosion right in front of Bravo. It is with this dramatic event that Bravo's life is turned upside down for now the Knights of St. Clement of the Holy Blood are after him and the secrets he's assumed to have as the son and apparent heir to his father's legacy. Dexter Shaw, you see, was the Keeper of the secrets of the Order of Gnostic Observantines and now that role has been given to Bravo.

Plot problems? There's so many that I think I'll just add one or two onto my posts for the next week--just as postscripts. Here's the one that looms the biggest to me, the entire book consists of Bravo straining to find the secret stash his father hid. He's under constant attempts to either be captured or killed, depending on who's doing the attempt. And due to the training Bravo had from his father when he was young, he's the only one who can decipher the clues Dexter Shaw left.

Okay. Bravo is the only one that can find the cache of secrets. Why would the other side try to kill him or even capture him? Just follow him. Duh. Even more stupid is that the reason for the huge push on the part of the "other side", the Knights of St. Clement of the Holy Blood, is that the Pope is going to die within the week and they need the ointment to save him... so why is Bravo trying to find the ointment? All he has to do is wait a week. He doesn't have any need to find the cache--only the nasty Knights that say... sorry, wrong movie...of St Clement need to find that cache right now. Oh, and if Bravo is the only fellow that can decipher the clues from his father, and Bravo is in great danger the entire time--why in bloody Hell did ole Dexter have something like a dozen "clues" spread all across Europe and secreted in ways that would have taken decades to accomplish, not the few weeks that he supposedly had? Surely he must have been aware how much danger he was subjecting his son to. Anyway...

And that's just skimming the surface! How about Bravo, a middle aged investment banker, mixing it up with dozens of trained guards and assassins--and winning every time. Yeah. Sure.


Hey, Utenzi! Michele sent me.

I've read ONE Lee Child book and I'm already a huge fan of his stuff. Need to catch up before I can go forward, though. I think. Maybe not. (need more time to read, definitely!)

As for Lustbader... my mom read him when I was little. Said it was fun garbage but not for me. Would you believe that even as an adult, I keep thinking it's too sexy for me and I won't pick them up? From your review, it sounds like I'm doing myself a favor!

Hope you'll do some book reviews for the Summer's Hidden Treasures contest. All you'll need to do is leave the url to a book you review (so long as it's not a best-seller) at my site. Yep, it's that easy. Lots of good prizes, too.

Anyway, have a great weekend. Hope you get more good reads in and fewer of the bad ones!
rosemary said…
I haven't read either of those authors...I'll have to check them out at the Library Monday. I have been in an ethnic mood lately...Kite Runner, The Namesake and the other books by the same authors. I am horrible at review writing...I either like them or not. Same with movies.
I have been on a reading spree lately. With assorted readings. I post my reviews on my reading room blog.

I have not read either of the authors you mention here.

Maybe I should. But after I finish my list/lists!

BTW, I am here from michele!
Mr. Althouse said…
The second book sounds like a cheesy "B" movie. I guess for literature it doesn't work... being so bad it's funny, I mean.

Michele sent me,

Into the Light said…
I think I always meant to try a Lee Childs book, but haven't. I'm not sure if there's a reason...

With that Hershey's Kisses picture, you should probably have mentioned it's momentous birthday this weekend. Just a thought...

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