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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Bad Luck and Trouble

Lee Child

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To purchase Bad Luck and Trouble

Title: Bad Luck and Trouble
Author: Lee Child
Genre: Novel
Written: 2007
Length: 477 pages
Availability: Bad Luck and Trouble - US
Bad Luck and Trouble - UK
Bad Luck and Trouble - Canada
La faute à pas de chance - France
Trouble - Deutschland
Vendetta a freddo - Italia
Mala suerte - España
from: Bookshop.org (US)
  • The eleventh Jack Reacher novel

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Our Assessment:

B : ultimately reasonably satisfying, but uneven

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 31/3/2007 Matthew Lewin
The NY Times . 14/5/2007 Janet Maslin

  From the Reviews:
  • "Lee Child certainly has a flair for action, tension and a good story. But his hero, Jack Reacher, the drifter who owns nothing in the world but a folding toothbrush and the clothes he stands up in, is hard to stomach. Apart from the fact that he never shaves, seldom changes those clothes and never washes his pants, he is just too damn perfect to be even halfway believable." - Matthew Lewin, The Guardian

  • "Now he avoids commas, italics, long sentences, balmy caresses and any other talk about the weather. The effect of this streamlining is electrifying. Not for nothing has the cover art of his recent books depicted a bull’s-eye. (...) Mr. Child’s one liability is sadism, but he keeps it under control here with eye-for-an-eye reasoning. (...) Bad Luck and Trouble, a top-tier Reacher book that matches the caliber of One Shot, from 2005, makes the most of its characters’ camaraderie." - Janet Maslin, The New York Times

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The first chapter of Bad Luck and Trouble doesn't feature Jack Reacher, but rather an old army colleague of his who is being loaded onto a helicopter, the novel opening: "The man was called Calvin Franz and the helicopter was a Bell 222". Franz has two broken legs, so he's being loaded on board on a stretcher; for a while it's unclear what the plan is, but it would seem he is being medevacked. He's not.
       The second chapter, set seventeen days later, brings Reacher on the scene. He's in Portland, Oregon, keeping up his meandering ways -- "Reacher was a drifter, not a hermit, restless, not dysfunctional" -- but running a bit short of money. When Reacher goes to an ATM he finds that there's more money there than there should be -- 1030 dollars more, to be exact. Which might be a simple (if unlikely) mistake -- or, he realizes, a message.
       It is indeed a call for help, from Francis Neagley, one of the eight members of a special investigations unit he had set up and worked with while in the army. Franz was a member, too, and when Neagley learned what happened to Franz -- the helicopter ride ... did not go well -- she goes about trying to contact the other members of the unit. Even though they are not more or less off the grid like Reacher is, she can't reach anyone; indeed, Reacher is the first one she is able to contact. They meet in Los Angeles and team up to try to figure out what is going on.
       Something is definitely going on. While they do find other members of the unit, someone else has clearly been tracking them as well -- and managed to clear a few out of the way already. From early on we also see Reacher and Neagley being surveilled -- by not one but two different parties -- so someone is already hot on their heels when they start looking into things .....
       Four members of the old unit band together, trying to figure out what happened -- with Reacher swearing vengeance on whoever is responsible. The plan -- or at least the ambition -- is simple:

We investigate, we prepare, we execute. We find them, we take them down, and then we piss on their ancestors' graves.
       The trashed homes and offices of some of the other unit-members suggest someone was looking for something -- and couldn't find it. What information Reacher and his gang do find suggests there is quite a bit of money involved -- over sixty million dollars -- but it takes them a while to figure out what that money is meant for.
       There are occasional glimpses of those following Reacher and his associates -- and brief bits following a man of many fake names as he travels to the United States and then across the country, doing some business along the way: Azhari Mahmoud, also going by the names of Adrian Mount, Alan Mason, Andrew MacBride, and Anthony Matthews. Clearly it's his plan that has set all this in motion and led to everyone on Reacher's old unit becoming a target that must be silenced. Naturally, all paths converge.
       There's some action from the beginning, but Child takes his time in rolling things along. The first major confrontation comes more or less out of the blue but is quickly handled -- "Not too much of a problem", as one of Reacher's colleagues says --, the next comes about by pure chance, with one of those looking for the Reacher-quartet simply stumbling upon them: "I found them. Unbelievable. They just popped up right in front of me" -- but his luck quickly runs out. It's only two-thirds of the way in that things really get moving; there comes the point where: "At that instant it became a race against time".
       Child mixes urgency and waiting deftly as he moves towards the novel's conclusion. Reacher has to wait -- for dark, for a start -- and then, several times, has only minutes, or less, in which to dash or do something. There's fast action, and then there's the waiting:
     He waited.
     Five minutes.
       And again and again: "He waited. [...] Reacher waited.". And then, of course, things go fairly fast and furiously. Until they slow down again, and there's more waiting .....
       It's not easy to do well -- and could easily get enervating --, but Child pulls back and speeds up just enough each time.
       The set-up for the showdown was simple and straightforward: Reacher and his colleagues find themselves way outmanned and with:
     No time.
     No element of surprise.
     A fortified position with no way in.
     A hopeless situation.
     "We're good to go," Reacher said.
       Reacher isn't kidding about getting vengeance, either, and Child over-reaches rather unpleasantly here, leaving a somewhat bad aftertaste to Bad Luck and Trouble. Readers are used to Reacher having to kill people, but usually it's a them-or-me type of situation -- and here it rather too often isn't, as when:
Then he broke the guy's neck, one-handed, with a single convulsive twist. Then he bounced the guy's head around, front to back, side to side, to make sure the spinal cord was properly severed. He didn't want the gut to wake up a paraplegic.
       From the beginning, there are also a lot of number-games in Bad Luck and Trouble -- with Reacher also often playing with them in his head ("I am a numbers guy", he also points out). They figure right to the end -- occasionally arguably a bit too intensively ("'Five hundred and two thousand, seven hundred and twenty,' Reacher said, automatically. 'Assuming you use only three decimal places for pi"). Even when all is said and done, there's a final numerical message in the two bank transfers Reacher gets ..... Child maybe lays this on a bit thick .....
       Among other odds and ends, there's a nice bit where Reacher explains why he insists on remaining so unencumbered when he's called out for tossing out his one shirt when he buys a new one:
       "You could have kept the old shirt."
       "Slippery slope," Reacher said. "I carry a spare shirt, pretty soon I'm carrying spare pants. Then I'd need a suitcase. Next thing I know, I've got a house and a car and a savings plan and I'm filling out all kinds of forms."
       And, along the way, Reacher also reflects on his life- and career-choices, as he is able to compare them with the more or less successful paths his former unit-mates have carved out for themselves:
When he had quit the army he had been fully aware that what faced him was the beginning of the rest of his life, but he had seen ahead no further than one day at a time. He had made no plans and formed no visions.
     The others had.
     How ?
     Why ?
       He also knows appearances can be deceiving; as they find out, things weren't going that well for some of their missing colleagues. And so:
He wondered exactly how well they were doing, behind their facades. Exactly how it all looked on paper for them, at tax time. And how it was going to look a year from then.
       (This also brings up one open question: what does Reacher do at tax time ? He winds up with a decent wad of cash -- in his bank account -- at the end of this novel; how (and as what kind of income) does he declare it ? He certainly didn't fill out a W-9 .....)
       Bad Luck and Trouble isn't meant to be plausible fiction, but a few things here are a bit too convenient and simplistic. Child does a lot of the detail-work nicely -- even Los Angeles' notorious traffic is used to good effect -- but a few significant things along the way feel forced -- things needed to advance the plot and action, rather lazily thrown in. As with some of the writing, Bad Luck and Trouble can feel too blunt and basic, and it's one of the more uneven Reacher-novels -- rip-roaring, page-turning much of the way, but with a variety of pretty basic and disappointing stumbles too.

- M.A.Orthofer, 24 February 2024

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Bad Luck and Trouble: Reviews: Lee Child: Other books by Lee Child under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       British author Lee Child was born in 1954.

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© 2024 the complete review

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