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Nothing to Lose    by Lee Child order for
Nothing to Lose
by Lee Child
Order:  USA  Can
Delacorte, 2008 (2008)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book

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* *   Reviewed by Martina Bexte

All Jack Reacher expects when he steps into Despair, Colorado's only diner is lunch and a hot pot of coffee. What he gets is a cold shoulder from the waitress, suspicious glances from other scattered patrons, and, eventually, an invitation by four burly thugs to leave town. Not one to be denied his coffee, Jack faces down and thwarts the deputies. In short order, he finds himself under arrest and charged with vagrancy by the local judge. The next day the sheriff drives Jack to the town limits where he's sternly advised to not 'to bother us again.'

Clearly, the local citizenry have underestimated the seemingly laid back drifter. Annoyed over this treatment and determined to discover exactly what the town of Despair is hiding, Jack heads back to Hope and spends time regrouping and asking questions of the locals. One, a member of the Hope police department, has her own suspicions about what's going on in the neighbouring town. With Vaughn's help, Jack begins to unearth a few of Despair's little secrets.

A man named Thurman owns the town, lock stock and barrel, as well as the huge metal recycling plant that employs the majority of the citizens in one form or another. What Thurman doesn't want anyone to know is his involvement in a secretive military project. Jack might have been a part of the US military machine for a good part of his life, but that doesn't mean he condones their secretive dealings with outside contractors. Once he understands exactly what Thurman is hiding, Jack's mission is clear: bring the shady dealings to light, even if he has to blow the recycling plant sky high to do it.

While fans of the Jack Reacher series shouldn't expect the modern day Paladin to go toe-to-toe with down-and-dirty villains and their complicated and nefarious plots in each and every instalment, they have come to expect tightly-paced and concise plotting, something lacking in Nothing to Lose. Reacher spends more than half the book sneaking back and forth from Hope to Despair, either carrying out surveillance, hanging out in cafes, facing down or threatening the same enemies - all of which quickly become redundant. Conversely he breaks into highly secure areas - ones trained Navy SEALs might have difficulty cracking open - with nothing more than tools acquired at a local hardware store, and then ultimately admits that he had everything figured out days before.

It's rather clear that this story is Lee Child's commentary on the Iraqi war and the current US administration's foreign policy - his addition of religious zealots as well as an army deserter underground railroad only muddies the already incohesive plot. Child can't be faulted for his crisp dialogue, entertaining characterizations, and another edge-of-your-seat showdown that has Jack creating his signature brand of pandemonium as he rams full throttle into enemy camp. Overall though, Nothing to Lose doesn't match past instalments and would have been much more effective if pared down and presented as a novella.

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