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The Hard Way    by Lee Child order for
Hard Way
by Lee Child
Order:  USA  Can
Delacorte, 2006 (2006)

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* * *   Reviewed by Martina Bexte

As a former military cop, Jack Reacher has a gift for noticing much more than the average person. On this particular day while sitting in a New York café, 'Jack Reacher ordered an espresso, double, no peel, no cube, foam cup, no china, and before it arrived at his table he saw a man's life change forever. So slick, Reacher had no idea what he was watching. It was just an urban scene, repeated everywhere in the world a billion times a day: A guy unlocked a car and got in and drove away. That was all. But that was enough'.

At the precise moment this seemingly insignificant drama unfolds, Jack has no idea that the unlocked Mercedes contains one million in ransom money and that Edward Lane, the man who paid it, will do almost anything to save his beautiful wife and her child. The kidnapping of innocents doesn't sit well with Jack and he's more than willing to help, even after discovering that his new employer runs a highly illegal mercenary operation - and that the six Special Forces vets who back Lane up are equally lethal. Jack soon learns that Lane's first wife had also been kidnapped but didn't survive the ordeal. He's not surprised that Lane insists that under no circumstances will this latest kidnapping involve the police. Lane reiterates his point by swearing, he'd 'put Jack's eyes out' if he even thought about involving the law.

After participating in two more failed ransom drops, Jack realizes that there's a lot more going on here than meets the eye. As he discovers more about Lane's sinister background he realizes that the mercenary has not been straight with him - and that he's hiding a couple of huge and very dirty secrets. Blatantly ignoring Lane's threats about involving others, Jack meets with the sister of Lane's first wife as well as the FBI agent who was in charge of the first kidnapping. Both women shed even more light on Lane's activities and his agenda and that's when Jack decides to do some double-crossing of his own. At this point, he's got enough information to bury Lane, but that's not good enough - Jack's determined to find out exactly what's happened to Lane's second wife. So begins a hunt that starts in New York and comes to a brutal and bloody conclusion in the quiet English countryside where Jack faces down an enemy he underestimated from the very beginning.

In a refreshing change from most previous installments where Reacher always seemed to be three steps ahead of the bad guys, Jack does indeed have to unravel this latest mystery the hard way. Child drops miserly hints and every few chapters throws a nifty plot twist into the mix just to shake things up and get Jack thinking. But he perseveres; in fact, he thrives on it, bringing the story to a seamless, incredibly gritty and thoroughly satisfying conclusion.

For action, suspense and a cast of truly sinister bad guys, The Hard Way is one of Child's best yet. But at the centre of it all is the character of Jack Reacher: he's smart, dangerous, funny, brutal when he needs to be, taciturn, and often too curious for his own good. His sense of right and wrong always gets him into the thick of the action, despite his desire to stay off the grid. Which makes him all the more human. Fans of this one-of-a-kind hero (aka Reacher Creatures) won't be disappointed with this latest installment and will eagerly anticipate Jack's next adventure.

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