Here's a real-life mystery: Why is Jack Reacher not yet a household name, or an iconic movie character like Jason Bourne or Ethan Hunt? The central figure in 14 of Lee Child's thrillers is temptingly cinematic. A former U.S. Army military policeman with lightning-quick reflexes, superior fighting skills, and a gift for math and observation, Reacher has little of the self-reflection that would hamper a transfer to the big screen. He has a backstory but not much baggage literally. Since mustering out of the Army, he's traveled across the country without a suitcase, carrying only a fold-up toothbrush and wallet (he buys new clothes every few days).
As a result, he can drop into a new town as a guardian angel for any innocent in distress. In 61 Hours, he enters a small South Dakota burg during a snowstorm. First he helps a busload of senior citizens. Then he assists local cops seeking to protect the key witness in an upcoming trial against a crystal-meth ring. Just to keep things lively, Child tosses in a crooked cop conspiring with the bad guys, a riot at a local prison, a ruthless Mexican drug lord, and Susan Turner, a brunette who's working Reacher's old job as head of an Army special-investigations unit (Susan, who digs up a telling morsel in Reacher's history, seems poised to play a significant role in future volumes).
Child is a superb craftsman of suspense, juggling several plots and keeping his herrings well-rouged. He doesn't need the 24-like conceit suggested by the title as he counts down to the final confrontation but it's not a major distraction. Best of all, this is a rare series book that reads like a stand-alone. Everything you need to know about Jack Reacher is contained within its pages. And chances are you'll want to seek out other Reacher adventures the moment you finish. A–