Do you recall that famous line from the “Forrest Gump” film? “My momma always said, ‘Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.’ ” That might be true, except when it comes to Jack Reacher. With Reacher, life might be a box of chocolates, but you are going to get the same sweet treat every time – an epic beat down, whether it’s an elbow or a kick to the head, a broken arm or leg. You are also going to get Reacher’s signature self-confidence – in both his moral compass and his masculine strength.
“No Middle Name: The Complete Collected Jack Reacher Short Stories” by Lee Child features 12 published stories including “High Heat,” “Deep Down” and “Second Son,” and the previously unpublished story “Too Much Time.”
One of the stories features Jack at age 13 on a Marine base in Okinawa, as self-assured as ever – and you are left to wonder if he came out of the womb fully formed and ready for battle. As a young man we find Reacher already solving crimes and of course knocking the base bullies down a peg. We also come across Reacher in New York City, the author’s hometown, taking on a mob boss during the Summer of Sam and the 1977 blackout as well as in a jazz bar facing a room of Russian bodyguards.
The story lines in these shorts are sketches rather than fully formed stories. Child seems to be testing out various scenarios for Reacher to experiment in – the highlights, of course, being the balletic fight sequences. Reacher can always assess the situation – reading the room and making the first move – and when the fists start to fly, the action is choreographed to perfection like a Guy Ritchie film.
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However, one curious story, “Everyone Talks,” defies belief. It features Reacher in a hospital bed after he’s been shot. “Has he ever been shot in one of the novels?” I asked myself. Reacher somehow takes down the bad guy, all the while doped up on sedatives and painkillers, from the comfort of his bed.
“No Middle Name” is a vital addition to a Reacher groupie’s bookshelf. For the casual fan, it’s a fun read but by no means essential. The novels are like the fully mature Jack Reacher that Child describes, complete and strong, while the short stories more resemble the version by actor Tom Cruise, full of heart, but short of stature and not fully satisfying to the true fan.
“No Middle Name: The Complete Collected Jack Reacher Short Stories”
By Lee Child (Delacorte Press, $27)