Book Review: The Sentinel

My copy of the book.

I love Jack Reacher, I just do. The stories aren’t particularly well-written, although that’s always a hazy space anyhow (if I’m enjoying the book, and the book is written true to the Reacher character, as they are, isn’t it “well-written”?), the plots are convoluted, and rather unrealistic — it was always unrealistic, for example, that Reacher, a six foot, five inches, 250-pound man, would ever be able to successfully hitchhike — particularly as we get further and further into the 21st century, but I don’t care! I love Jack Reacher! I’ve read all 24 prior Lee Child Jack Reacher novels, as well as the short story collection, No Middle Name, and I certainly wasn’t going to stop before reading the 25th book, 2020’s The Sentinel.

That said, I did go into it with some wariness, because it is the first novel in the series to be written ostensibly by Lee Child, and his younger brother, Andrew Grant (going by Andrew Child). I say ostensibly because I’m not sure how much Lee Child contributed to this one or not, but they both get billing. Going forward, it looks like that’s still the case, with emphasis on the cover being more so that it is a JACK REACHER novel. Reading some of the reviews of The Sentinel, I think going into it knowing that affected, perhaps tainted even, those reviews. People seemed upset! They said Reacher wasn’t written the same, both in dialogue and the fight scenes. Some even called it “Jack Reacher fan fiction.” Heck, someone even criticized the choppy, short sentences, and I’m like, have you read a Reacher book by Lee Child? That’s his style! I actually modeled some of my own writing after him because of that style.

As I said, I’ve read all prior 24 books and the short stories from Lee Child, and so, from that vantage point, I’m surprised by those reviews! Which is why I think they are tainted by the knowledge that someone else is involved in writing the books and the character now. Because I thought it seemed like Reacher and a Reacher book to me? The Reacher formula is hard to get wrong, folks:

  • Reacher travels light, and is always written as finding clothes at local truck stops and such (although oddly, never underwear!), and that it’s important to eat when you can, and wolf down a lot of extra-strong coffee.
  • Reacher, the nomad, wanders into a new town, where trouble is afoot. Being the Good Samaritan he is, Reacher notices the trouble and intervenes.
  • After intervening, Reacher typically wants to then leave the town because it’s not his problem after all, but something will pull him back in, convincing him to stay and help.
  • Reacher uses sarcastic quips against people stupid enough to fight him.
  • Sometimes Reacher is quiet though. A Lee Child hallmark (which is in this book!) is for a character to talk to him, and the Reacher paragraph in response is: Reacher said nothing.
  • Reacher is a savage in fights. No mercy, unless it has a strategic purpose. He often does that, “I’ll count to three: 1 … 2 … wham.
  • Reacher has a near superpower in his ability to go instantly to sleep (I wish I had that) and to wake up when he wants to, and to know what time it is at all moments.
  • For the most part, not even a six-on-one scenario is a problem for Reacher, but usually, there is at least one person who is brought into the story that presents a challenge of sorts to Reacher, a “final boss,” if you will.
  • Reacher uses his Sherlockian brain to unravel the conspiracy or the plot, and often is a chess master in how he formulates his plans in response, thinking four steps ahead.
  • Not always, but often, Reacher gets the girl in the story Bond style.
  • There is usually a twist of some kind at the end, but Reacher is prepared for that, too.
  • Reacher wins. Reacher always wins.

I’m probably missing some hallmarks, but off the top of my head, that’s the general formula, and it’s used in this book, too! The gist of the story is that Reacher wanders into a Tennessee town, helps Rusty, the town’s IT guy, before he is kidnapped, and realizes there is more nefariousness afoot. Essentially, the town is upset with Rusty because they blame him for all the servers being down in the town, or something? I didn’t quite get why the townspeople were so upset. Nonetheless, it’s later learned that the Russians are responsible for wiping out the town’s servers, and that the Russians are attempting to meddle in America’s elections. Sounds timely, huh? But the Russians are particularly interested in The Sentinel, some sort of American safeguard that protects the election software. The Russians have a spy inside the government to help bring down The Sentinel, but the Americans are also infiltrating the Russians via the FBI to figure out who the spy is. In the town is an old Russian spy cosplaying as a Nazi to galvanize local white supremacists (including the town’s police detective) to sow discord in American society. Sounds timely, huh? Reacher works with Rusty, his IT friend and former FBI agent, Sandy, and the FBI agents working the case, to bring it all crashing down on the heads of the Russians and the Nazis.

One of the funniest scenes in the book is when Reacher goes to where the Nazis are (they even have swastikas tattooed to their chests), and it’s a six-on-one situation, mind you. But even so, Reacher, confident as always, taunts the six Nazis by suggesting they ought to pick up the nearby hammers and other tools as weapons. Then he really lays in his violence on them … because Nazis.

I didn’t like the Rusty character because he was pretty annoying. He’s that quintessential stubborn character who dismisses all the danger and signs of danger and doesn’t think anything is connected and doesn’t understand why any of this is happening. To boot, he’s also greedy about wanting to turn something within the destroyed serves into a money-making software. But Reacher is the Good Samaritan, ergo.

I liked most of the fights in the book, because I just love Reacher’s dominance (I’m a Superman fan, after all), but I didn’t like the bigger fight at the end. As I mentioned, the Reacher formula is to bring in the “final boss” to make a fight more challenging for Reacher. From the middle of the book on, the bad guys teased this Moscow bad guy coming in to clean up the “drifter,” aka Reacher. He’s notorious for how violent he is, and when he shows up, he’s depicted as this gigantic six foot, five inch, 300-pound man. He even shrugs off a shot to the chest from Reacher (he had a Kevlar vest on, but still), and some of Reacher’s hardest blows square to the face. He’s then able to get Reacher down to one knee! And then to his back! The only reason Reacher isn’t then defeated is because of an deus ex machina where the bad guy hesitates to finish Reacher off … for reasons. That allows Reacher to gain the upper hand where he doesn’t hesitate to finish him off.

That aside, I liked the book. Because, as I’ve established, I like Reacher. If you like Reacher, I don’t see why you wouldn’t look like this novel, too, even with someone new at the helm. It’s still Reacher, folks.

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