The Affair by Lee Child

Not just Star Wars has prequels. Jack Reacher does, too. The Affair is Child’s sixteenth book in the Jack Reacher series. The action takes place in 1997, before Child’s first Reacher novel, The Killing Floor. Reacher is still an army cop with the rank of major. Despite the skirmishes in the Balkans, the U.S. military is on a peace footing. Remember, this is four years before September 11, 2001.

Cuts are coming. Everybody knows that. The U.S. army establishment is most worried because the army is the largest branch of the military and stands to lose the largest amount of funding. The last thing the army needs is bad publicity. So when a young woman is found murdered near an army base in Mississippi, Reacher is sent undercover to the town to keep taps on local law enforcement and make sure no surprises happen before the army brass knows it. A colleague of his is sent to the base to investigate on the inside.

This marks Reacher’s first mission in civilian clothes. He has to shop for them since he’s gotten all his clothes from the army before. The novel is also the first time Reacher rides the bus, hitchhikes and walks to get where he needs to be. All modes of transport we have encountered in his other novels.

The local sheriff turns out to be a woman  of Reachers age and extremely beautiful. More than that, she’d spent sixteen years in the Marines as an MP, before retiring and running for sheriff, a position her father’d held for decades. Reacher’s cover doesn’t survive the first encounter with Sheriff Deveraux. As a former MP, she knows the procedures, has implemented them herself. Besides, she’s worn the same PX socks Reacher is wearing. Reacher decides to work with her rather than against her.

There wasn’t just one dead woman. There had been three unsolved murders. All three women were considered very good looking, but the two first ones were black, the third one white. Reacher knows he has a serial killer at his hands.

The novel engages the white/black division of the town not as well as the army/town relations. There is mention of it and the fact that the two previous murders remained unsolved without any outside attention is clearly related to the race of the victims. Reacher and Deveraux know that. The plot turns in unpredictable directions. At one point Deveraux herself is under suspicion. A powerful  senator from the appropriations committee, a group of right wing militia men all add to a complex puzzle.

I liked this book. Lee has toned down the violence quite a bit, which serves the plot well.

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