7/09/2008

The last couple months in book reviews.

This is gonna be a long one, because I neglected to make any of these posts for a while. My bad. Also, these reviews originally appeared on goodreads.com, and may contain some stuff that's out of context due to the venue transfer. I haven't gone over them, just copy-pasted, due to time limitations. If anything's weird or nonsensical, I apologize.

Maggie Cassidy, by Jack Kerouac
** spoiler alert ** It's been a long time since I read a book by Jack Kerouac. When I was younger and first read "On The Road", "Dharma Bums", "The Subterraneans", "Visions Of Cody", and the several others of his that I've read, I loved his stuff. But as I've gotten older, and the distance between me and the last time I read any Kerouac has grown, the criticism that the guy comes in for in certain circles has gotten to me a bit, and I've found myself wondering at times whethe...more It's been a long time since I read a book by Jack Kerouac. When I was younger and first read "On The Road", "Dharma Bums", "The Subterraneans", "Visions Of Cody", and the several others of his that I've read, I loved his stuff. But as I've gotten older, and the distance between me and the last time I read any Kerouac has grown, the criticism that the guy comes in for in certain circles has gotten to me a bit, and I've found myself wondering at times whether or not he's as awesome as I remember. Well, I've got a few Kerouac books that I've picked up over the years that I still haven't read yet, this being one of them, and for whatever reason, a couple days ago when I hit up the bookshelf in my room for something new to read, my eyes lit upon "Maggie Cassidy". This book tells the story of Kerouac's first serious relationship, which happened when he was in high school, and I remembered liking the first chapter when I picked it up several years ago and read through it in a bookstore. I thought I'd probably enjoy it if I picked it up again now, since it isn't one of the weirder, less linear Kerouac books--like "Visions Of Cody", which I struggled a bit with, or "Desolation Angels", which I've owned for years and still haven't made it through. The opening few chapters are a pretty straightforward story about Jack Duluoz, Kerouac's literary stand-in, going to a New Year's Eve dance with his friends. It's told in third person, and has that lyrical mix of straightforward description and stream-of-consciousness rambling that is so intrinsic to everything I've read by Kerouac--it sucked me right in. I knew I'd enjoy the book from there. Of course, it soon changed; once the scene described in the opening chapters of Duluoz/Kerouac stumbling and howling down the road to the dance with his friends had ended, the book switched to first person and became a heartfelt narrative about young love as told by a much older man looking back. There's a wistful tone that carries throughout the book, often taking the form of stream-of-consciousness digressions into the then-unknown future of the characters, in which Kerouac laments the sad times that would come to befall them all. The transition between chapters 4 and 5 is particularly poignant, marking as it does the transition between third-person omniscient narrative and first person. At this point, and at many other times in the book's narrative--especially during the stream-of-consciousness ramblings, seemingly inspired by memories of a happy time now lost--I was forcefully reminded of what I always loved, what I still love about Kerouac: the way he does such a great job of making you relate to the way he feels, of showing you the depths of the love and feeling in his heart, of putting you in there with him and reminding you of the things in your own life that relate to the things he's feeling as he writes. Kerouac was a French-Canadian drunk and an over-emotional drifter who never amounted to much on any material scale, who bounced around and crashed on couches even as he was gaining serious literary fame, who sponged off his mom all his life, and who died before he hit 50 because he just couldn't quit drinking. But boy, he had so much emotion overflowing within him, and he did such an uncannily great job of putting it down on paper, I for one can't hold an ounce of it against him. I just wish he coulda lived 30 more years to write a whole bunch more books and maybe be around making TV appearances when I was growing up so I could see him instead of always having to hear his voice on old recordings, talking over the end of a Jawbreaker song or tracks he recorded with Zoot Sims in the 50s. Reading "Maggie Cassidy" made me sorry that he isn't some old man sitting on a porch in Massachusetts right now. I'd love to have an 8 hour conversation with Jack Kerouac right now.

But OK, that's all a shame but let's talk about the book a bit. Its only real weak point, so far as I can tell, is that he never put enough into telling the factual details of his relationship to Maggie Cassidy for me really to get the idea of what had happened that drew him to her so intensely. He actually tells more than shows the emotion he felt towards her, which makes me wonder if he was really right when he mentions towards the beginning of the narrative that she was his first and only real true love. Shouldn't there have been more emotion flowing through the passages that related to her and their relationship, if that was really the case? I don't know, maybe the 20 years it had been since the events of the book faded some of those emotions a bit, but the places where his love really shines through in this book's storytelling are when he talks about his father and his boyhood friends. The wistful tone I mentioned earlier comes out a lot during these points, as he once makes a reference to the death of his father and at a couple of other points to the sad fates of his boyhood friends; it's obvious to me that by the time he was writing this book, he looked at the time it described as a wonderful time in his life, much better than where he was when he wrote it, and something that he regretted taking for granted back when he had it. Something he wished he could have back, but knew he never could. And the ache of his heart comes through in his beautiful words, at points making me tear up in sympathy with him.

The most surprising part of the book comes at the end, at a point when I thought I never would really understand his feelings for Maggie, after the relationship was basically over. For the last two chapters, the last 5 or 6 pages, he switches back to an omniscient third-person narrative voice, and tells the story of himself, 3 years after the rest of the book's events, back in Lowell working a crappy job and having one last reunion with Maggie Cassidy. It isn't the same, and the second he picks her up in his borrowed car, he knows it isn't the same, and it comes through so clearly just how disappointed he is, to have permanently lost the connection they once had. It reminded me of a lot of my own heartbreaks, my last pitiful attempts to salvage relationships that were beyond repair. Maybe Kerouac is better at describing lost love than love in full flower--God knows I am, so I can hardly criticize him for it--but it was only on the last page, in the last paragraph, when I really understood how he felt about all he'd had and all he'd lost with her. The 20 or so pages before it had been way less powerful than the beginning and middle sections of the book, and I was expecting the ending to kind of peter out, so when it suddenly brought itself together and hit with great force, I was stunned. Not so much pleasantly as just powerfully. And I'm glad it ended powerfully, even if it did once again cause me to choke up a bit.

Reading this book has made me want to tear back into the other Kerouac books I have, both that I've read ("Visions Of Cody" and "The Dharma Bums" in particular) and that I haven't read ("Big Sur" and the long-despaired "Desolation Angels"), but I think what I may actually do next is pick up Gerald Nicosia's "Memory Babe", a huge and supposedly definitive critical biography of Kerouac that I've owned since the day I bought "Maggie Cassidy" and never read either. I think I might like to see what someone other than he himself would say about the great events of his life. And then, of course, I'll probably go ahead and read a few more of his books.

City Of Saints And Madmen, by Jeff VanderMeer
This is excellent stuff. Jeff VanderMeer takes influence from the baroque, surreal fantasists of yesteryear, such as Mervyn Peake, Lord Dunsany, or even H.P. Lovecraft (in his less horrific moments), and combines this influence with the more modern elements of steampunk and urban fantasy that can be seen in authors like China Mieville. Out of this mix, he has created his own world, which mostly focuses on the city of Ambergris, a sprawling riverside land that has fallen into functional anarchy after decades of benign neglect by its rulers. In these four novellas, Ambergris is the true main character, rather than any of the people who appear in the stories, and it's the unique elements of Ambergris--the "mushroom dwellers", Albumuth Boulevard, famous composer Voss Bender, Hoegbotton and Sons, etc.--that give this book its narrative unity, despite focusing on completely different characters from one story to another. "Dradin In Love" starts things off with a tale of an apostate priest who has come to Ambergris in search of a job and finds love, in the form of a woman he spies through a third-story window. We are first introduced to Ambergris through the naive and quite possibly insane eyes of Dradin, and what we see colors our opinion both of the city and of Dradin himself. The second story, "The Hoegbotton Guide To The Early History of Ambergris by Duncan Shriek", is completely different in tone, purporting to be a historical overview of Ambergris and maintaining that tone throughout the main text. Said main text is subverted, however, by copious footnotes in which we learn more and more about the character who authors the historical overview, Duncan Shriek. His feuds with other historians and personal place in the history of Ambergris is slowly illuminated through these footnotes, and they make an already interesting fictional history far more entertaining. The third story, "The Transfiguration Of Martin Lake", combines elements of the first two stories, switching as it does from art criticism penned by Janice Shriek, giving a detailed analysis of the major paintings of Martin Lake for yet another Hoegbotton Guide, to a narrative about the life of Martin Lake, specifically an episode that sheds light on why he painted the things he did in the first place. Finally, we end with "The Strange Case of 'X'", a shorter story with an atmosphere of creeping horror and an entertaining if somewhat predictable twist ending. This is the least substantial of the four stories here, and although it is entertaining, it's not as fascinating as the world-building and the mysterious twilight atmosphere of the three preceding stories.

Apparently "City Of Saints And Madmen" is now available in a much longer and more expanded edition, with 700 pages instead of 200. I have this version on order and look forward to reading the additional content when it arrives. However, for now, I'm quite satisfied with the shorter edition that I read, and feel that it stands on its own as a significant and entertaining work.

Addendum, 5/24/08: Not long after finishing this original version of "City Of Saints And Madmen", I obtained the expanded 2006 edition, which features something like a dozen extra stories and other miscellaneous pieces tacked on (as mentioned above). All of these works were added as an "AppendiX", purporting to be a collection of documents found in Patient X's room after he disappeared (fear not, that is not a spoiler for "The Strange Case of 'X'"). Some of these were even better than the four original novellas, in particular "The Cage", a story that purports to be written by Ambergris-based writer Sirin. This one scared the crap out of me, I don't mind telling you. Some of the more surreal and meta- stories included in the Appendix, such as "King Squid", a fake scientific monograph, and "The Exchange", a story published as an illustrated booklet, each page of which features copious annotations by "X", were interesting not only as stories themselves but also as artifacts that had greater meaning in the context of the rest of the book. Vandermeer was already moving towards these multiple-level conceits with some of the original stories, especially "The Hoegbotton Guide To The Early History Of Ambergris, by Duncan Shriek", but he takes them to a higher level with some of the stories attached in the appendix, and as a result, I can now say with authority that a reader won't get the full experience of reading this book unless they read the expanded version.

The Velvet Underground And Nico (33 1/3 Series), by Joe Harvard
So hey, this book was really good. It has thus far been my opinion that the books in this series that stay away from straightforward writing about the album they're dealing with are more memorable and enjoyable, but this book turns that opinion on its head. And by the way, that's not to say that I haven't enjoyed the more straightforward installments that I've read--in fact, I thought Andrew Hultkrans's take on Love's "Forever Changes" was damned good. But Harvard's "Velvet Underg...more So hey, this book was really good. It has thus far been my opinion that the books in this series that stay away from straightforward writing about the album they're dealing with are more memorable and enjoyable, but this book turns that opinion on its head. And by the way, that's not to say that I haven't enjoyed the more straightforward installments that I've read--in fact, I thought Andrew Hultkrans's take on Love's "Forever Changes" was damned good. But Harvard's "Velvet Underground And Nico" is the first time I've read one of these books and felt like I've really learned something. Maybe it's because a lot of the writing about The Velvet Underground is more focused on mythology than actual history, or maybe it's because Joe Harvard focused on Lou Reed's literary influences (Raymond Chandler! Hubert Selby Jr!), which no other Velvet Underground-focused account that I've read ever has, but I felt like there was a lot of new information here. It really enriched my enjoyment of this album, and it probably helps that I agree with Mr. Harvard that this is the VU's true masterpiece and the only place where they fully got it right. I have friends who feel like Nico drags the whole thing down, and other friends who don't get the drone-noise chaos of "European Son" or "Black Angel's Death Song", and I don't know if said friends would turn up their nose at this book, since it doesn't fit with their own analysis of this album. But since it fits with mine, I didn't have any trouble with that part of the book. And since Harvard did a great job of collecting a lot of stray bits of information from dozens of accounts and personally conducted interviews into an account that probably contained a good bit more factual information than has been present in any previous Velvet Underground discussion, I feel that his book is an important addition to the canon of VU-centric discussion, regardless of whether you're someone who agrees with the author and myself that "Velvet Underground and Nico" is their best album.

And by the way, if you don't, you need to listen to it again. And again and again and again. Maybe you should do that anyway--you know, just in case.

MC5's Kick Out the Jams (33 1/3 Series), by Don McLeese
This book doesn't talk much about the contents of the actual "Kick Out The Jams" album--though don't get me wrong, there are a few pages devoted to it. What it mostly focuses on is a social history and biography of the MC5 and their place within the broader context of the late 60s rock scene. In the absence of a major MC5 biography, this book does a great job of providing at least the skeleton of such a thing, though it can't go but so far in 120 half-sized pages. The suppressed documentary "The MC5: A True Testimonial", of which I've seen a bootleg copy, supplies more of the visceral rush of what the MC5 were all about, which it can of course do due to its inclusion of archival performance footage. However, McLeese's little book contains information that wasn't to be found in the movie, and besides, the movie isn't publicly available anyway--unfortunately due to the rampant egotism of Wayne Kramer, who needs to chill out already. In fact, "Kick Out The Jams" ends with a heartfelt plea for "A True Testimonial" to be released, one I fully agree with. Even if it were widely available, though, this book would still be an essential companion to it. As it is now, it's an absolute must read for any fan of the MC5. I only wish it were twice as long.

Shriek: An Afterword, by Jeff VanderMeer
I finished this book while on a road trip, over a week ago. At this point I don't know that I can really set down everything I have to say about it accurately--this review would have been more detailed had it been written when the book was still fresh in my mind. That noted, I did like this book a lot. It used some of the layered, metafictional techniques that VanderMeer used in "City Of Saints And Madmen", and acted as a sort of sequel to that book. "Shriek: An Afterword" is...more I finished this book while on a road trip, over a week ago. At this point I don't know that I can really set down everything I have to say about it accurately--this review would have been more detailed had it been written when the book was still fresh in my mind. That noted, I did like this book a lot. It used some of the layered, metafictional techniques that VanderMeer used in "City Of Saints And Madmen", and acted as a sort of sequel to that book. "Shriek: An Afterword" is a biography of Duncan Shriek, the character introduced to us in "City Of Saints And Madmen" as the author of "The Hoegbotton Guide To The Early History Of Ambergris". Existing in "City Of Saints" as more of a voice than an independent character, we are given only hints as to the story of his life. Meanwhile, his sister Janice Shriek is introduced in the story "The Transfiguration of Martin Lake", as an art critic writing critical pieces about Lake's most famous paintings. Now, with "Shriek", we're given a great deal of detail into the lives of both of these characters, as "Shriek" is a biography of Duncan, written by Janice, and heavily annotated by Duncan. At the time Janice is writing her manuscript, Duncan is thought to have disappeared into the underground world of the gray caps, the original inhabitants of the city of Ambergris, where both this book and "City Of Saints" take place. However, Duncan obviously returns at some later point, as he's available to annotate his sister's manuscript. But where is Janice? And where has Duncan been? And what of the gray caps? All of these questions and quite a few more, some of which are left over from "City Of Saints And Madmen", are answered in "Shriek: An Afterword", even as yet more questions are asked and left unanswered. And the whole thing is fascinating, at the same time telling a more exciting and unified story than "City Of Saints", with its many layers, ever tried to tell, and also continuing the metafictional experiments of that book through the layered narration of Janice and Duncan, who often disagree on fundamental points of the story.

I don't think I'd really advise pitching right into this book after finishing "City Of Saints"; that's what I did, and midway through "Shriek", I found myself needing a break from VanderMeer's stylized, baroque writing techniques. However, it's every bit as good as "City Of Saints", and essential reading for anyone who enjoyed that novel.

The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic Book Scare And How It Changed America, by David Hadju
This is an interesting and informative history of the panic revolving around comic books in the mid-50s, going back to the origins of the comic book medium for essential backstory and sociological context, but concentrating on the crime and horror comics of the 40s and early 50s that were instrumental in creating the comics-as-encouragement-for-juvenile-delinquency scare. I would have liked a little bit more detail about the specific content of some of the titles that caused such an uproar--"Crime Does Not Pay", the EC horror line, and the original incarnation of "Mad" are the only comics described in any kind of detail, and even then I would have liked more. However, the story of what actually happened--the book burnings, the court trials, the comics code, and the fallout from said code--is all told in great detail, and it's an interesting story. Also, Hadju discusses the deeper social implications of the comics that caused such a panic in adults of the time, and the likely underlying sociological causes of that panic; fear of children and teenagers as autonomous persons with their own desires to carve out independent identities in society and to escape from the conformity of their elders. His thesis has a lot of merit, and can probably explain a lot of other incidences in which the parent culture seeks to suppress and/or censor youth interests--look no further than the video game controversies of today.

Any comic book reader would probably enjoy reading this chronicle of an important era in the history of the comic medium. And it'll probably make you want to dig up some old EC horror comics (fear not, they're all being reissued in deluxe hardcover graphic novels, even as we speak).

Why Should I Cut Your Throat? by Jeff VanderMeer
This sadly inconsistent essay collection reflects little of the talent that makes VanderMeer's fiction so great. I picked it up in order to read the lengthy essay detailing the publication history of "City Of Saints And Madmen", and while I enjoyed that one a lot, it gave no real indication of quality from essay to essay throughout the rest of the book. Strangely, although the essays were pulled from around 15 years of VanderMeer's career, era in which each essay was written had no ref...more This sadly inconsistent essay collection reflects little of the talent that makes VanderMeer's fiction so great. I picked it up in order to read the lengthy essay detailing the publication history of "City Of Saints And Madmen", and while I enjoyed that one a lot, it gave no real indication of quality from essay to essay throughout the rest of the book. Strangely, although the essays were pulled from around 15 years of VanderMeer's career, era in which each essay was written had no reflection on the quality of the essays either. The first one in the book, a convention report from 1990, was the oldest, and it was deeply flawed, but some of the later writings in the book were just as flawed, while one of the few essays in which VanderMeer did display the talent I've seen in his fiction (an essay on the state of horror fiction in the mid-90s) was also one of the earliest essays collected here. The section of the book that I felt was weakest was the section in which he reviewed books. Perhaps this just has to do with my own tastes as a reader and reviewer, but I felt that he was way too quick to nitpick and turn negative, to write a bad review of something that he seemed not to have that big a problem with. It was as if something had to be transcendently excellent to get a good review out of him. I'm the sort of person that prefers to read good reviews of books/music/movies/whatever, so that I'm pointed towards things worth looking for. VanderMeer seems to be the type of reviewer who finds it far more enjoyable to pan books for their shortcomings, no matter how hard those shortcomings have to be hunted for. And I mean, he may be right (though the one book I'd read that he negatively reviewed, Iain M. Banks's "Look To Windward", is in my humble opinion far better than he makes it seem), but still, I don't know that I'd collect my negative reviews for an essay collection.

On the whole, I'm not sorry that I read this book, I just wish it had been more consistent. Perhaps next time he publishes an essay collection, it will be, but considering that I didn't necessarily even like the most recent essays in this one, I have my doubts that that will be the case.

The Family Trade, by Charles Stross
I was extremely impressed with this book. Now, despite having given it 5 stars, I will admit that, on a purely technical level, Charles Stross is not the best composer of words into sentences/paragraphs/chapters I've ever read. In fact, there were a few points during the book at which his actual prose style approached mediocre. However, none of it was enough to detract from my enjoyment of the story herein, and the story knocked my socks off so completely that I have no objection giving the guy 5 stars even though Jeff VanderMeer is a better writer and I only gave "City Of Saints And Madmen" 4 stars. This is the sort of person-from-modern-society-gets-dropped-in-alternate-reality story that I love, and Stross is probably the first writer I've ever read that nailed it completely. At least, as far as I'm concerned. I think the decisive factor for me is that the main character of the book handles getting dropped into an alternate reality in a lot of the same ways I'd probably handle it. Her thought patterns were similar, her behaviors made sense, etc. I read this and thought over and over again, "Yes! Yes! Exactly!" and not "Why did you do that?" like I often think when reading books like this. Therefore, it was a blast, and I plowed through it in maybe a day.

The Hidden Family, by Charles Stross
Jumping straight into this book the second I finished "The Family Trade" felt particularly natural. Throughout "The Family Trade", I felt like I shouldn't be as far into the book as I was--it still felt like it was just getting rolling when I was less than 100 pages from the end. This turns out to have a lot to do with the changes Charles Stross made to this series between when he started writing it and when he sold it. I learned in an interview he gave Locus magazine that he'd originally planned to make this series four giant novels. Currently, it's projected to be six novels--and at the end of the sixth novel, we'll be at the end of what he originally planned to be the second novel. He expects to write another series at some point in the future that will encompass his original ideas for the third and fourth novels. So basically, this six-book series consists of relatively tiny chunks of what he'd originally planned. The interview goes on to make clear that "The Family Trade" and "The Hidden Family" were the two halves of what was originally intended to be the first book--meaning, I suppose, that the second book was originally going to be twice as long as the first. So, my feeling that "The Hidden Family" was merely the second half of "The Family Trade" has a logical source--originally, it would have been exactly that.

I haven't talked much about the storyline in these books, and I don't really want to, as I hate it when I read a review of a later book in a series and it spoils the ending of the first or third book in the series. Therefore, let's stick to bare bones--Miriam Beckstein, a divorced journalist of independent means, learns that her adoption as a baby came about as a result of her having been brought into modern America by a traveler from an alternate reality, and that she herself can travel back to this alternate reality with the aid of a certain talisman. There, she is the daughter of a rich merchant clan who can "world-walk" from their world to hers. But the world she comes from is trapped in the middle ages on a sociological level, and her family expects her to submit to the role of demure merchant-princess who marries for status and wealth, not for love. She, of course, has other ideas.

So this leads to all kinds of fun stuff--gunfights in medieval worlds! Multi-level courtly intrigue! Corporate piracy! And always, the undercurrent of a woman used to having equal rights struggling to maintain these rights and squirm out from under the thumb of her literally-medieval family. This book, like the one before it, is a blast.

The Clan Corporate, by Charles Stross
Charles Stross's Merchant Princes series has its first less-than-stellar entry in "The Clan Corporate". I would have to say that my review here, though, is merely an indication of how much I've grown to love the series and its characters over the course of my frantic weeklong immersion in its first three books. After all, the reason I felt that this volume was less outstanding than the two that came before is because events of the story have caught up with our protagonist, Mirian Beckstein, and she's allowed much less room to maneuver and get into exciting situations than she was in the first two volumes of this series. "The Clan Corporate" starts what would have been Stross's longer second volume of this series, and it appears for most of it that the jaws of the medieval-thinking trap have closed over Miriam, and that her defiant liberation may be at an end. The way the novel ends gives some hope, but it's less than clear. Meanwhile, we've got a great deal of sympathetic frustration to look forward to over the course of these 300 pages. While Stross's storytelling is no less amazing and his prose maintains enough quality to earn the title of "decent" throughout (though never "great"), he's telling a less satisfying story in this volume. And for that reason, I found it particularly frustrating to reach the end of the volume and realize that the fourth in the series, "The Merchant's War", won't be in paperback until September 30th. I feel I can wait 3 months for this book, rather than pay 4 times the cost for a hardcover instead of a paperback, but it's going to be a near thing, and I have no doubt that I will be jumping on the Volume 5 hardcover as soon as it's released. I always tell myself that I'm not going to jump into these lengthy, multi-volume series until they're finished. I should never have violated that particular guideline in this case. As much as I'm loving these books, it's driving me crazy that I can't blast through all six of them at once.

Which, I suppose, is a good review for Charles Stross, even if it is a source of frustration for me.

Die Trying, by Lee Child
This is a fast-paced crime/espionage novel that straddles the line between the hard-boiled detective and secret agent/spy genres. What those two subgenres of the mystery genre have in common is often their one-man-against-the-world scenario, and in this novel, Child's long-running protagonist Jack Reacher is that one man. That said, although he's the main hero, it's obvious by the end of the novel that he couldn't have gotten through the adventues he's had without help from several other characters, most notably female FBI agent Holly Johnson. Kudos to Child for writing a strong female character instead of giving in to the easy temptation that years of "I'm helpless without you, my hero" leading females have created when writing this sort of genre fiction.

The story begins with Reacher stopping to help a woman on crutches carry her dry-cleaning, and almost immediately getting kidnapped along with her by several mysterious gun-toting thugs. This all happens in the first three pages, setting the pace for a book that moves at breakneck speed throughout. Reacher soon learns that Holly Johnson is the daughter of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and has been kidnapped by a right-wing militia as part of a plot to secede from the United States. Reacher has been swept up into the situation merely by virtue of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. From here, things just get crazier and more hectic, with all sorts of twists and turns as Reacher and Johnson try to break out of captivity and struggle for power with their kidnappers. There were points towards the beginning where I couldn't believe that the book was going to stretch to its 400+ page length, as it seemed to be hurtling towards a climax that would occur much quicker than the time it would take to reach the end of the book. However, Child managed to sustain the pace throughout without ever making it seem like he was complicating the plot unnecessarily, which is a tough line to straddle when writing this sort of fiction.

I read this novel as part of a book club, and when the book club got together and discussed it afterwards, there were several members who said that their credibility was strained by a few different scenes in which Reacher or Johnson would pull off near-superhuman feats of strength or agility, or even just succeed in the sort of bare-bones improvisation that always saved MacGyver and The A-Team. I agree that some of these things seem a bit hard to believe when I look back on them, but at the time I was reading the book, I had no trouble suspending disbelief. This speaks well for Child's ability to captivate the reader, and tell an entertaining enough tale that highly-improbable feats are accepted in the moment by the reader. Or at least, accepted by me. Those other people in the book club who didn't get pulled along by the story, well, I don't know what their problem was.

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