It's that time of the year again when a new Jack Reacher novel comes out. The Sentinel is the 25th Reacher novel and the first where Lee Child hands over the reins to his younger brother Andrew Child aka Andrew Grant. It's a transitional book, a soft reboot, one to reassure readers that the series is in safe hands, that Reacher is still Reacher and provide the comforts promised.
In The Sentinel, Reacher arrives in a small town in Tennessee in time to prevent a defenseless nerdy guy from getting kidnapped. Rusty Rutherford was the town's IT guy now being blamed and vilified for a major ransomware attack he tried to prevent that's crippled the whole town's computer and commercial infrastructure. Reacher decides to stick around to protect Rutherford and figure out why people are after him. He ends up facing Nazis, corrupt officials, local gangsters, undercover agents, Russian spies, and a conspiracy to steal a computer program designed to safeguard the presidential election. In other words, a typical Jack Reacher plot.
In the last few books that Lee Child wrote solo, Jack Reacher had become increasingly remote and taciturn, and less in peril. He had become an unstoppable, terrifying force of nature who was the deus ex machina that wandered into other people's stories to solve their problems. The plots were also becoming variations on Sergio Leone's A Fistful of Dollars where Reacher comes into town and plays rival gangs against each other in increasingly farcical fashion before Reacher just walks in and easily picks off the ones left standing. Child was also leaning increasingly towards dry, dark humor, usually in the way Reacher threatened the baddies and the comical way the bad guys panicked over him. Other readers may not agree, but I found Reacher drily telling the bad guys what he's going to do to them in The Sentinel the funniest part of the book. And then he does it.
Jack Reacher 101: Here's What You Need to Know
If you've read five or more previous Jack Reacher novels, you'll recognize the common tropes to expect in a Reacher book. Lee Child plotted it out with Andrew and it feels like it was fed through The Jack Reacher Plot Generator ™: dodgy town, innocent to protect, smart women to ally with, fascists to maim, evil Russians to kill, labyrinthine conspiracy plot to unravel. If you've read more than five books in the series, you've been here before but in previous books, it felt new and fresh. In The Sentinel, Reacher has become nigh-infallible. He is never in any jeopardy though everyone else is, including all the bad guys who don't realize they are in serious danger from him. It doesn't take Reacher long to figure out what's going on, less effort than previous books when the plots were more elaborate.
The Sentinel is one of the least ambitious Jack Reacher novels in the series. It feels like a soft reboot to transition the series to Andrew Child's authorship. Its generic nature seems to be there to reassure fans that this is still Jack Reacher as everyone knows him, or Jack Reacher 101. It's the Comfort Food Edition of a Jack Reacher novel. That said, it's still fun. Nothing is more satisfying than scenes of Jack Reacher beating the crap out of a bunch of Nazis or using his brute strength to end a truly evil guy with just one gesture. Reportedly, Lee Child will co-plot the next few books before Andrew Child completely takes over the books while Lee concentrates on the TV series.
Resetting The Franchise
I call The Sentinel a soft reboot because it doesn't mention Reacher's age. It mentions his history as a military policeman in the US Army in passing. The first Jack Reacher novel was published in 1997. The character was born in 1960, which would make him about 60 years old by the latest novel. He might be getting a bit long in the tooth to still be able to throw down with men half his age and still take them apart, especially when he's been living in dinghy motels and eating crappy food and drinking only coffee for over 20 years. The much-younger Alan Richson has been cast as Reacher in the upcoming Amazon TV series, so his history will have to be updated for the show. Was Reacher subtly de-aged in the book?
The other characters would probably have something incredulous to say about a 60-year-old drifter who came into town and started beating up bad guys to clean it up like The Man With No Name. Do we have a younger, alternate universe version of Jack Reacher now? It'll be interesting to see if the semi-regular supporting characters like his female counterpart Frances Neagley are updated for both the books and the show. If you're a newcomer to Jack Reacher, The Sentinel is a perfectly good jumping-on point, but it's not as ambitious or emotional or mind-stretching as the best in the series like Gone Tomorrow, The Enemy, Bad Luck and Trouble, or the short story collection No Middle Name. The Sentinel should be the "Introduction to Jack Reacher" book for newcomers before they try out the more epic books in the series, then we wait and see how Child handles the rest of the series.