Publication Date: November 7, 2016
In Night School by Lee Child, it’s 1996 and Reacher is coming off of a big win in his Army career when he’s sent to Night School. His classmates, an FBI Agent and CIA Analyst, have also just celebrated big successes in their careers. The trio soon learns that there have been shadowy whispers of an American and an act of terrorism on a scale the world has never known. Can they, with the help of Reacher’s trusted friend, Frances Neagley, stop the plot in time?
I love Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series. Like John Sandford’s Lucas Davenport series, there are books in the lineup that aren’t as good as others but none that are really bad … until now. Night School is a 498-page read that really could have been a better novella. There was an off-feeling to the way the story was written. It lacked focus and teeth and meandered in directions that led to the staggering page count in a way that was more boring than purposeful. Is Child bored with writing the Reacher series? Is he now writing stories that will translate to the screen better than they read on paper? Whatever the case, the writing, character development and plot is not what long-term fans have come to expect from this usually excellent author.
Going back to fill in Reacher’s backstory has worked for Child in the past. The character’s motivations are filled in a bit each time and we learn more about him. Night School relies on long-time readers knowing the character from previously released volumes. He phones in the stock actions; fighting, sex with a co-worker and the lightbulb moments that save the day. The lightbulb moments aren’t out of left field, they’re coming from a completely different stadium but it ends the story and that’s a good thing. There are loose strings everywhere but none really that the readers will feel at a loss for the lack of resolution.
Night School is the cover for the investigation into a potential terrorist act. I think what bothers me most about the novel is that there’s a lack of moment in the premise. Why are we taken back to this moment in Reacher’s history? There’s not really a sense of urgency for the characters in much of the work so the feel is a day in the life for Reacher. Night School does nothing for the Frances Neagley character we come to know. There are a number of red herrings which, frankly, make the characters look a little like they’ll never solve the case set. The flow of the story is plodding and the editing team should have stocked up on red pens.
So will I read another Reacher novel? Always. Every author is owed a bad book. I will still recommend the Reacher series, but not to start with Night School. Read it for the continuity of series and only for that reason.
Read an excerpt and buy Night School by Lee Child on