Chronicle-Herald Column, April 2016

Make Me (Dell, paperback) is the new Jack Reacher thriller by Lee Child, and if you’re a fan of the Reacher novels then that’s really all you need to know. If you’ve never read a Reacher, then you also need to know this: nobody writes thrillers the way Lee Child writes them.

 

Reacher is a former military cop who, by his own choice, lives the life of a wanderer. Here, he hops off a train in a small town in the middle of nowhere, where he meets a private investigator who’s looking for her missing partner. Reacher decides to hang around for a while, because he’s curious why the townspeople don’t seem to want him here, and because he has a nagging fear that the investigator’s partner came to a very bad end. Splendidly plotted, occasionally violent, often shocking, it’s one of the best in the series.

Here’s a fascinating companion piece to Child’s novel: Reacher Said Nothing: The Making of Make Me (Bantam Press, paperback). You know those “making of” books that are published to tie in with a new movie? This is pretty much the same thing. Journalist Andy Martin peeks over the author’s shoulder — metaphorically and literally — as Child is writing the novel. We see Child polishing sentences, working out plot points, shaping a story.

If you think this all sounds a little dry, think again. Reacher Said Nothing is full of suspense. Did you know that Child has virtually no idea, when he starts writing a novel, where the story is going to end up? He didn’t know exactly what his bad guys were up to until he was nearly finished writing Make Me, and he didn’t know how Reacher was going to beat them until he had to write those scenes. Martin is a lively writer; the book is entertaining and insightful and, in places, nearly as thrilling as a Jack Reacher novel.

In Solitude Creek (Grand Central, paperback), by Jeffery Deaver, it looks like California Bureau of Investigation agent Kathryn Dance has accidentally allowed a criminal to escape from custody. She’s immediately reassigned to another case but, without her boss’s knowledge, she stays involved in the hunt for the escaped man.

Deaver fans in the crowd are already thinking: sure, but what’s really going on? And they’re right, of course. There are several plot twists in the book (Deaver is one of the best plot-twisters in the thriller game), including one rather massive one that will make you go back and reread the book to see if you can catch all the clues you missed the first time around.

So That Happened (NAL, paperback), the autobiography of Two and a Half Men star Jon Cryer, is a very good Hollywood memoir. Yes, Cryer spends some time talking about the whole Charlie Sheen fiasco, but that’s not the focus of the book. Cryer takes us through his entire career, giving equal weight to its highs (starring on Broadway; making a big-screen splash in Pretty in Pink) and its lows (a series of post-Pink dud movies, including Superman IV; four failed sitcoms in a row).

Cryer also gives us a glimpse of what his career might have been like: he turned down a chance to read for a part in Quentin Tarantino’s first movie, Reservoir Dogs; he could have been the disreputable Baltar on the reboot of Battlestar Galactica; and he taped an audition for the role of Chandler in Friends, but the tape got lost and the producers never saw it. An engaging life story.

This column originally appeared in the Halifax Chronicle-Herald, April 10, 2016.

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