Sunday, February 27, 2011

Running Blind

Running Blind by Lee Child

Soldier-turned-soldier-of-fortune Jack Reacher goes after a serial killer in a conventionally but nonetheless deeply satisfying whodunit. In today's armed services, you lose even when you win--at least if you're a woman who files a sexual harassment complaint. Amy Callan and Caroline Cooke were both successful in their suits, which ended the careers of their alleged harassers. But Callan and Cooke ended up leaving the service themselves, and now they're both dead, murdered by a diabolical perp who keeps leaving behind the same crime scene--the victim's body submerged in a bathtub filled with camouflage paint--and not a single clue to the killer's identity or the cause of death. The FBI hauls in Reacher, who handled both women's complaints as an Army MP, as a prime suspect, then offers to upgrade him to a consulting investigator when their own surveillance gives him an alibi for a third killing. No thanks, says our hero, who's taken an instant dislike to FBI profiler Julia Lamarr, until the Feds' threats against his lawyer girlfriend Jodie Jacob bring him into the fold. While Reacher is pretending to study lists of potential victims and suspects and fending off the government-sponsored advances of Quantico's comely Lisa Harper, the murderer is getting ready to pounce on a fourth victim: Lamarr's stepsister Alison. This latest coup does nothing to improve relations between Reacher and the Feebees, all of them determined to prove they're the toughest hombres in the parking lot, but it does set the stage for some honest sleuthing, some treacherous red herrings, and some convincing evidence for Reacher's assertion that all that profiling stuff is just plain common sense. -- Copyright © 2000 Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. Copied
--Running Blind by Lee Child, Copyright ©2000 by Lee Child, published by Putnam Books

My Review

Where do I begin?

First things first…another fabulous story.

After living in one place for three months, Jack Reacher has itchy feet. He tries to quell them with regular trips into New York City to be with Jodie, but it’s not the same. For a man who’s used to being on the move with little more than a toothbrush and the clothes on his back, being anchored to one place and struggling with the burdens of property do not sit well with him.

One evening in the city, he gets himself involved in a minor act of vigilantism against one of New York City’s many “protection” gangs that, under normal circumstances, would barely get a rise out of the NYPD (I’m guessing). But the act is witnessed by two FBI agents, agents that have him under surveillance because he fits the profile of a potential serial killer. So in trying to help out the owner of a restaurant he’s come to enjoy, he gets arrested by the FBI. They’re willing to drop the charges, however, if he’ll agree to help them hunt this killer.

Reacher says no.

Two victims so far, they tell him. Former Army soldiers, victims of sexual assault. They had successfully pressed charges against their abusers and then subsequently left the military. Reacher had met them both while working as an investigator for the Military Police. In fact, he’d met a number of the women on the list the FBI had gotten from the Army. Help us get this killer before he kills more of these women, they say to Reacher.

Reacher says no again.

You knew he would.

The strong-armed tactics the FBI employs to get his cooperation may work with most people, but not with Reacher. He thinks about a dozen steps ahead of everyone else and before they can haul him off to Quantico, he lays down a bit of groundwork. See, they made the mistake of threatening Jodie (the love of his life, from Tripwire, saying they would let that “protection” gang know about his interference and how they could get revenge on him through her. That was their first mistake and because he’s smarter than them, he’s able to remove the threat without seeming to raising a finger (it’s awesome, by the way, how he’s able to do it!).

With the threat removed, Reacher walks away, literally. He walks out of the building and off the FBI compound at Quantico. He realizes he’s enjoyed the past couple days, moving about between NYC and DC and doing something besides worry about property taxes, insurance, home maintenance, getting a job and having to mow the damned lawn. Again. Once back in New York, however, the FBI is waiting for him. The killer, who had been killing once every three weeks, has upped the interval, and he’s killed the step-sister of one of the FBI Agents involved on the case. Now Reacher has no choice but to get involved. Before, he was playing with the FBI, not wanting to get involved but enjoying his involvement nonetheless. Now playtime is over and it’s time to get serious. And when Jack Reacher gets serious, the bad guys had better watch out.

Okay, okay, a bit cliché’d, but I like it!

As much as I enjoyed this story, I had a couple problems with it.

One, at the beginning of Chapter 13, it’s Sunday morning and Reacher walks into the FBI cafeteria. On the table is coffee, a basket of Danish and doughnuts and the Sunday papers: the Washington Post, USA Today and the New York Times. The problem? USA Today doesn’t have a Sunday edition. They’ve never had one. Not now, not ever.

Two is the way Child portrays the FBI investigators as idiots. Reacher had to keep pointing Agent Blake (the agent in charge of the investigation) and the others in the right direction, telling them what to do next. For example, once they discovered the significance of the delivery box in murder victim #4’s barn, they should have automatically backtracked to the previous three victims to see if they had similar delivery boxes. They did, but only after Reacher told them to. He also had to tell them to check with the other potential victims to warn them about a delivery box. Once the box became significant, even I knew what needed to be done. The agents should have known as well without Reacher telling them. This is the FBI, for Pete’s sake. They should know how to conduct an investigation. Did their ability to free-think disappear once they finished their elite training? Also, why would they keep the relative of one of the potential victims on their team? She should have been removed the moment the connection was made, no matter how good her track record was. But they stubbornly kept her on.

I can accept sticking to the tried and true, but when it’s obvious something needs to be done, and you don’t do it, you cross the line from stubbornness to stupidity.

Third—and this is the biggie to me—the killer uses hypnosis to control the victims, to the point where they actually have a hand in their demise. I have to call foul on this one. You can do a lot of things with hypnosis, but you cannot make someone do something contrary to their nature. If you’re a natural exhibitionist, maybe you could be hypnotized to walk down your town’s Main Street naked, but for us shyer types, uh-uh, no go. If you have no desire to smoke, you cannot be hypnotized to suddenly light one up. It won’t happen. This myth was debunked on TV by The Discovery Channel’s Mythbusters (episode “Voice Flame Extinguisher,” originally aired April 11, 2007) and of course, there are thousands of links on the Internet that support this.

The desire for self preservation is one of the strongest instincts we humans have and, knowing all this, I don’t buy the killer’s method actually working. The Motive and Means are top-notch and well plotted, but the Method fails.

I give this story THREE AND A HALF STARS.

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