One of the strengths of Lee Child's Jack Reacher series is the way it bounces around in time -- sometimes it's Reacher's post-military life, sometimes it's while he's serving, sometimes you get a couple of books in a row that are clearly tied together, sometimes it's impossible to tell what chronological relationship a book has to the rest. The central character is what matters -- is Reacher essentially the man we met in Killing Floor? As long as the answer is, "yes," the rest of the details don't matter that much.
So, following a successful classified mission, Major Jack Reacher is assigned to a training school. Which is just a flimsy cover for an inter-agency task force with Reacher, a FBI agent and a CIA analyst. The Intelligence and Defense world is trying to adjust to a post-Cold War reality, looking towards Middle East threats, rather than the Warsaw Pact. An undercover operative has indicated that something very big is on the verge of happening -- no one is certain what, where, or when -- but they know that a lot of money is exchanging hands to lead to it.
The White House's directive is simple: find out what's afoot and stop it. Whatever it takes.
Since this is Army-era Reacher, first thing he needs is Sgt. Frances Neagley, who continues to be just about as smart, possibly tougher, and more resourceful than Reacher. The CIA analyst and FBI agent are involved, but it doesn't take long for Reacher to go his own way (with Neagley half a step behind). The other direction makes sense, but this is a Jack Reacher novel, so you know he's right.
It's a race against time and unknown calamity in a tense and taut thriller -- just what Reacher fans want and expect. Not perfect, but a heckuva ride.
The thing that ties everything together for Reacher, allowing him to figure out what how the target pulled off what he pulled off was both entirely plausible and entirely hard to swallow. I have a hard time believing that no one before Reacher (or the target) figured it out before them. Even in the moment, with momentum driving the plot forward at top speed, I had to roll my eyes at it.
Despite the presence of Sgt. Neagley, Army-era Reacher books don't work as well for me. He's far better as a nomad, answerable to no one (save the occasional employer), not under any orders or required to follow certain regulations. Yes, given the setup for this one, he is able to disregard Army SOP, but only so much.
I liked it, but didn't love it. I had a lot of fun, and was engaged throughout. But it was a little bit of a let-down after Make Me. A mediocre Reacher is still better than so many books -- and this was both mediocre and better -- I'm glad I read this, and can't imagine how anyone who likes a suspense/thriller novel wouldn't. Still, Child is capable of more, and I hope he delivers that next time.