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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Affair

Lee Child

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To purchase The Affair

Title: The Affair
Author: Lee Child
Genre: Novel
Written: 2012
Length: 528 pages
Availability: The Affair - US
The Affair - UK
The Affair - Canada
The Affair - India
Mission confidentielle - France
Der letzte Befehl - Deutschland
La verità non basta - Italia
  • The sixteenth Jack Reacher novel

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Our Assessment:

B : basic, but enjoyable enough

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Independent A 6/10/2011 Andy Martin
The LA Times . 18/11/2011 Rosie Mestel
The NY Times . 20/9/2011 Janet Maslin
The Times . 8/12/2012 Marcel Berlins

  From the Reviews:
  • "The Affair is Child on top of his game. It could well be his best book yet." - Andy Martin, The Independent

  • "OK, so none of this is exactly Dickens or Proust, and having read three Reacher novels so far I'm beginning to see the common threads: Lonely towns. Twisted souls. And, above all, body counts." - Rosie Mestel, The Los Angeles Times

  • "(T)his book is really about the man himself, and it presents his most colorful appearance in a long time. It establishes Reacherís idealistic but vengeful personality and lays out the rules by which he lives." - Janet Maslin, The New York Times

  • "Prequels are rarely satisfying; Child bucks the trend." - Marcel Berlins, The 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 Affair is the sixteenth of Lee Child's novels featuring Jack Reacher, but actually goes back to the beginnings -- to right before the debut-volume, Killing Floor, in fact: in The Affair Reacher is thirty-six, it's 1997, and he's still in the army, a major in the military police. At least he is when the novel starts: The Affair is the story of what brought him to the unattached loner-lifestyle familiar from all the earlier (but set later ...) novels familiar to readers, after a lifetime as military brat, West Point cadet, and then in the military police.
       Reacher narrates the story, and it begins oddly retrospectively-- "A long time ago", he even admits, though he recalls the exact date: 11 March 1997, "the last day I walked into that place [the Pentagon] as a legal employee of the people who built it". Several times he also mentions how different times were -- specifically how much laxer, especially in terms of security --, explicitly reminding readers that what he's describing happened before the events of September 2001. Yet, despite these occasional mentions that place the narrator years ahead of the time of the action he's recounting, when he gets down to it, The Affair is almost all immediacy, right there, right then. Spring, 1997.
       It begins with the opening chapters -- which aren't really the beginning of the story: Reacher has set up a meeting at the Pentagon where he's going to report on the mission he was sent on, and the book then soon jumps back a few days, to that mission, which then takes up most of the novel. But this Pentagon-meeting is set up as a make-or-break point -- the narrative then jumping back before we find out which it is, and then slowly working its way back to this meeting and then finally laying it all out.
       Reacher describes making his way to the meeting -- to the Pentagon, then in the building -- in the ultra slow-motion technique Child favors to heighten tension. It's clever and effective: practically every thought and observation is weighed, each possible threat analyzed -- and with the luxury of setting it out on the page, it doesn't have to be instant: a split-second can be carefully drawn out over a whole page. Nothing happens suddenly -- later, in both fight and sex scenes, Child pulls the same trick -- and it works: it's revealing, of who this man Reacher is and how he operates. And it makes for a very effective contrast when Child actually allows something sudden to happen, which then appears all the more unexpected.
       Reacher's assignment was to go to "the back of the beyond" in Mississippi, a town called Carter Crossing -- the nearest town to a military base, Kelham. A woman got killed there, and there's the uncomfortable possibility that someone from the base was involved. With Kelham a base for some activity the military wants kept quiet anyway -- flights to Kosovo -- and the commander of one of the companies, Reed Riley, being the son of a U.S. senator ... well: "It's a delicate situation". Reacher isn't the one sent to check things out at the base; he's to go incognito to the town and: "develop a relationship with local law enforcement" to keep track of the investigation from that side of the fence.
       Things of course do not go as planned: the local sheriff, the beautiful Elizabeth Deveraux, is a former Marine who sniffs Reacher out before she's even met him. As she explains: "I was expecting you. It's exactly what we would have done, frankly, under the same circumstances".
       Her first instinct is to send him packing, but Reacher is good, and offers insight and some help. Besides, they hit it off -- it wasn't what his boss meant, but he definitely develops a relationship with local law enforcement. Conveniently, she's also staying in the hotel that Reacher takes a room in .....
       With the MP that got the assignment to check out the base, Duncan Munro, putting it on lockdown, there's a convenient separation of town and base. Except that the separation seems to extend a bit further, as it looks like there's an exclusion zone around the base, with some people who stray there getting shot -- even though Munro is certain no one from the base could be responsible. Complicating matters, too, is the fact that the woman whose murder set everything in motion doesn't seem to to have been the first: two other locals also got killed -- and share exactly one trait with the third victim (and, for that matter, with the sheriff): "all three were amazingly beautiful".
       Reacher smells a cover-up -- there's too much information he isn't getting, or is being told not to share, and there are obviously other parties in the vicinity, going over some of the scenes. And there's sheriff Deveraux, who maybe has some secrets too -- as word is she too had an affair with the senator's son .....
       Reacher does what needs to be done to set things right. Most of the time, the morality is clear-cut, but, somewhat disconcertingly, there's also the occasional pretty cold-blooded murder: defensible, arguably -- they had it coming -- but not the kind of thing you want happening in a supposed law-and-order-based society.
       The Affair is a good introduction to Reacher, and offers fun background for those familiar with the character. This mission seems to have been his first where he gets to test out his out-of-uniform persona, the guy who travels with just the shirt on his back -- and buys a new one when it gets dirty. As readers of the later(-set) novels already know: he certainly took to the lifestyle.
       The story is pretty basic, and the (central) crime extremely so. It's the surrounding activity -- "The cover up is always worse than the crime", as Reacher reminds someone -- that make for most of the excitement, mess, and fun. While the beautiful-women-murders are horrific, the cover-up extends to some pretty high and important places, and Reacher finds himself tangling with a lot of bureaucracy, politics, and military machinery -- which he shows about as much respects as they're due (one of the more amusing aspects of the novel). No wonder, too, that it's the end of the line for him when he's done (though that comes almost naturally, with the general military downsizing that's in the works). Only one handy helper is a bit too good to be true -- always there at just the right moment, and with all the rights contacts and capabilities -- but there's enough else that happens that that can almost pass.
       The affair with the sheriff is a nice touch, as is the freight train that rumbles through town at midnight every day and is used, repeatedly, effectively by various characters, in a variety of ways. Reacher is enjoyably -- if somewhat implausibly -- unflappable: "I never get angry. I'm a pretty placid type of guy", he maintains -- and Child knows how to use the type. What emotion there is may be a bit forced, but Reacher isn't simply robotic; there's not much personality to the guy, but just enough to make him interesting. (So also, Child manages Reacher's downtime -- the long waiting around inactivity -- surprisingly well -- something that's not easy to do.)
       Yes, The Affair is, in almost all respects, pretty basic stuff -- but it is engaging, and Reacher is, in his peculiar way, compelling. And he gets his guys. Yes, there's a bit of overkill that leaves something of a sour taste -- but they did have it coming, and while there's some obvious satisfaction there, Reacher doesn't gloat or wallow in it, making it more bearable. He just -- as always -- calmly and efficiently does what needs be done.

- M.A.Orthofer, 21 November 2017

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The Affair: 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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© 2017-2024 the complete review

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