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Bookends: Murder While the Clock is Ticking February 14, 2012

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends.
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Bookends: Murder While the Clock is Ticking

By Dan Davidson

January 4, 2012

Star, Jan. 6/12

– 825 words –

61 Hours

by Lee Child

Dell Books

512 pages


Thriller novels require a source of tension to keep the plot boiling. One of the classic tools for building tension is to create a ticking clock. A novel with a title like 61 Hours has such a clock built into it.

When we meet Jack Reacher this time, he is traveling, having joined the passengers of a tourist coach full of seniors making their way west. The weather is not good and a close encounter with a passing vehicle causes the bus to go off the road near an icy bridge. The seniors and their coach driver are ill prepared to cope with the accident, but Reacher manages to set road flares and does his best to keep people safe until help can arrive from nearby Bolton, North Dakota.

Bolton’s lawful claim to fame is that it is home to a major new federal prison. The vehicle that caused the accident had been coming from there, driven by a lawyer who had just received instructions from a client to set in motion events that would involve at least a dozen felonies including, if he had only known it, his own demise.

All of these things are set to happen within the next 61 hours.

The plans were hatched by a dwarfish Mexican drug lord who chooses to go by the name of Plato. He has a deal under way with a member of the Russian crime syndicate. This involves Bolton’s not-so-legal claim to fame: that it is located near to an abandoned military facility which has been taken over as the home turf of a biker gang.

In Bolton there is an old lady, a cultured and retired former Oxford librarian, who happened to witness a drug deal going down in town and who feels that it is her civic duty to testify about it. Her testimony would seriously inconvenience Plato’s big deal, and so he has marked her for death.

The fear of the Bolton police force is that an assassin will be coming to town to carry out that sentence.

Reacher is initially treated as a person of interest, since he is totally out of sync with everyone else on that disabled bus and the accident could have been a ruse to get him into town. It doesn’t take him too long to establish that he is not the killer and he is billeted in town at a private home along with all the other passengers who have to wait for a replacement bus from their tour company. There are no vacant hotels rooms in the town. They are filled with family members who have come to visit their loved ones at the prison.

It’s a fairly long wait since the nasty weather has turned to a blizzard and Bolton is just about cut off from the world for a couple of days. During that time there are several suspicious incidents and a murder (the lawyer) and Reacher, a former military policeman with a background in investigations, proves his worth by helping the locals, who are out of their depth.

He is tapped to assist in protecting Janet Salter, the witness, with whom he forms an unusual bond. His other bond is by long distance telephone, to Susan Turner, the woman who now occupies the investigative post and rank he had before he quit the army. He needs her help in finding out just exactly what that abandoned cold war era military base could have been, and he lends her his experience in tracking down a soldier who has killed his wife and is on the run.

As part of that bonding conversation we learn just how his old desk got that head shaped dent in it, an amusing story and one that helps to explain why he eventually hit the road.

His long distance consultation proves very successful for her and she finds out most of what he needs to know, though there are still a few surprises when he finally gets to take a close look at the place.

There’s lot’s more in here. I liked the chemistry between Reacher and Janet Salter and if the solution to the murders (yes, two more) did not surprise me, I enjoyed seeing how he got there.

The ending is a bit ambiguous as to how he survived the events at the old base. Child has written it somewhat like an insider’s news report and while we can figure out what must have happened, we don’t actually see it.

The Reacher novels are presented to us out of sequence, unlike most series, so the next one could actually take place before the events in 61 Hours, but I do hope that some day there’s a sequel in which he and Susan Turner finally meet in person.




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