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Echo Burning    by Lee Child order for
Echo Burning
by Lee Child
Order:  USA  Can
Jove, 2002 (2001)
Hardcover, Paperback, Audio

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* * *   Reviewed by Martina Bexte

Itinerant loner and ex-military investigator, Jack Reacher, is hoping to hitch a ride along a lonesome stretch of Texas highway very soon. It's hot as Hades and he'd like nothing better than to spend even a short time in air-conditioned comfort. When a big white car pulls over and a darkly exotic young woman invites him in, Reacher figures it's his lucky day. But a few hours later, after listening to Carmen Greer's tale of the agony of living with an abusive husband and in-laws who despise her Hispanic heritage, Reacher realizes he might have been hasty in accepting the ride.

Then Carmen asks Reacher to kill her husband. She's certain that once Sloop Greer is freed from prison for tax evasion (she turned him in) he'll finally beat her to death in a fit of uncontrollable rage. Reacher doesn't want to get involved - he's become adept at avoiding the establishment and any permanent ties to it - yet above all he's an honorable man and can't ignore Carmen's dilemma. No way is he going to kill Sloop Greer though, and he makes sure Carmen understands that. Instead he agrees to go home with her, hire on as a ranch hand, and protect her from Sloop should he turn violent.

Once Reacher meets Carmen's in-laws he quickly determines that they're as cold, cruel, and racist as Carmen described and that the only reason she's tolerated at all is that she's the mother of Sloop's child, a little girl her father apparently adores. When Sloop Greer arrives home from prison on a hot Sunday afternoon he's shot dead before Reacher has any time to assess his true nature. Prime suspect is Carmen Greer, found standing over the body with the smoking gun, one she recently purchased and that Reacher taught her to handle. To the police and Sloop's family the case is open and shut. But everything seems a little too neat and tidy to Reacher, who decides to do some investigating of his own. What he finds makes him question his own instincts about Carmen Greer, her innocence and ultimately, her true motives. Nevertheless he keeps digging and before he finds the truth there's even more bloodshed, as he unravels a decades-old secret that certain individuals had hoped to keep hidden forever.

Echo Burning is a moody, gritty, meandering, violent, loaded-with-action-and-atmosphere thriller - a story that fits right into its brutally hot west Texas setting. Characters and plot points are deftly fleshed out and clues left dangling for Jack Reacher to puzzle over. Every clue presented has an eventual purpose but sometimes Reacher needs mull over each puzzle piece before seeing and understanding the big picture. Reacher is a very appealing protagonist, a large and commanding man, often scruffy, yet always dangerous, even when he doesn't appear to be. He's a modern-day but very reluctant Robin Hood who finds himself constantly drawn back into the very establishment he decided to shun, investigating other people's problems that always seem to involve a murder or two.

Lee Child's debut novel, Killing Floor won numerous mystery awards and each new Jack Reacher adventure continues to garner rave reviews. Echo Burning is the fifth installment in Reacher's adventures. Readers who enjoy complicated, no-holds-barred thrillers won't be disappointed and are urged to check out all of Lee Child's titles in this always entertaining series.

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