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The City Of Invention

The book reviews of UK children's author, Brian Keaney

LIke Something A Teenage Boy On Steroids Would Write

Killing Floor - Lee Child

Lee Child is an immensely successful author who will shortly be taking up a Visiting Professorship at the University of Sheffield where, in 2009, he funded 52 Jack Reacher scholarships, named after the central character of this novel. Killing Floor has collected the Anthony Award, the Dilys Award, the Barry Award and the Macavity Award, and Child’s books are distinguished by a long list of five star reviews on Amazon. Well I’m clearly out of line with the majority of readers because I thought this macho tale was the sort of thing a teenage boy on steroids would come up with.

The central character, an-ex military policeman who wanders the US aimlessly out of a hunger to experience freedom, makes a random decision to get off a bus at the sleepy Southern town of Margrave, motivated only by a story he heard about a blues-singer called Blind Blake ending his days there.

Upon arrival in the town, Reacher is immediately arrested for murder and slung into jail where a gang of nazi bikers tries to kill him. But Reacher is astonishingly good at violence and it doesn’t matter how many or how big they are, he deals with them all clinically. Once out, he wants to know what is going on. The first thing he discovers is that as well as the victim whose death the corrupt police chief had tried to pin on him, his brother Joe has been murdered at the same time and by the same hands.

Reacher hasn’t seen his brother for years and didn’t even know what Joe was doing for a living. So it’s a remarkable coincidence that Joe should turn up dead in this small town in the middle of nowhere the very day that Reacher arrives there. But it’s only one of a number of unlikely events in the plot.

It transpires that Joe was working as an investigator for the US Treasury attempting to unravel a huge counterfeiting racket. Now Reacher plans to finish the job and this time it’s personal. Against impossible odds, he takes down the racket and clinically disposes of all those involved before wandering off once more on his American odyssey.

The story is written in a pared-down sub-Chandler lexis. However, unlike Chandler whose writing is laden with razor-sharp similes, Child doesn't bother with imagery e.g. ‘It was about as distinctive as the most distinctive thing you could ever think of’.

I suppose I'm being pedantic but I found it irritating that part of the plot turns on the fact that when Reacher finds a sheet of paper on which his brother has written the US motto, e pluribus unum (meaning one from many) as e unum pluribus he immediately realises that this means many from one and is a coded message about a counterfeiting racket. But as anyone who has even the slightest acquaintance with Latin knows, word-order doesn’t matter in Latin. You can write those three words in any order; they still mean the same thing. And you can give this book as many awards as you like; I'm still unimpressed.