I read many different types of books, but what I most love to read is a truly badass book. From the day I first opened up an Edgar Rice Burroughs novel as a child, I was hooked on the simple literary delights of a well-placed punch to the face. However, it is an unfortunate truth that it is a rare badass book in which ALL the parts are “good” parts. Often, the good parts are tempered with a large amount of boring parts. In this feature, I will select, from among all the parts of each featured book, only the good parts.
Once again, I will be taking a look at the character Jack Reacher. 6’5″. 250 lbs. Ex military policeman. Firearm capabilities: phenomenal. Hand to hand combat abilities: like having a running chainsaw thrown at you. Pecs: like a Kevlar vest. Forehead: Bone–all the way down. Detective. Drifter. Lover. He is the star of a long running series of books by author Lee Child, and today I’m going to look at the 18th Jack Reacher book Never Go Back.
For those of you who were a little disappointed by the relative dearth of badassery in some of the previous Jack Reacher novels, (I’m looking at you The Affair), don’t worry, author Lee Child really steps it up when it comes to Never Go Back.
Right off the bat, Child throws the reader a pretty nice bit of asskicking on the third page of Never Go Back. However, Reacher isn’t a monster, he always warns the badguys before he jumps straight to the cigarette punches and headbutts:
‘Every night we find you still here, we’re going to kick your ass.’
‘Starting tonight. So you’ll get the right general idea about what to do.’
Reacher said, ‘You ever bought an electrical appliance?’
‘What’s that got to do with anything?’
‘I saw one once, in a store. It had a yellow label on the back. It said if you messed with it you ran the risk of death or serious injury.’
‘Pretend I’ve got the same kind of label.’
After demolishing those two dudes, like you do, Reacher finally hooked up with his new girlfriend, Major Turner, the chick he’d been hitchhiking across the country to meet ever since he liked her voice on the phone back in book 14. Luckily, she turned out to be super hot. Also, luckily, she was a badass, but she still needed pointers when it came to fighting the 8 dudes that Reacher stole a bunch of meth money from:
‘They won’t all fight. There’ll be a congestion problem, apart from anything else. And we can kerb their enthusiasm by putting the first few down hard. The key is not to spend too much time on any one individual. The minimum, ideally. Which would be one blow, and then move on to the next. Elbows are better than hands, and kicking is better than both.’
Even with all that great advice, Reacher ended up appealing to their sense of redneck pride and convinced them to just fight him 2 on 1…and to make it fair, he said he wouldn’t use his hands. Of course, the 8 dudes didn’t realize that even a no hands using Jack Reacher still carries an electrical shock warning label. He took the first guy down with a patented Jack Reacher nut shot:
Reacher stepped forward and kicked the fat guy in the nuts, solid, right foot, as serious as punting a ball the length of the field, and the guy went down so fast and so hard it was like someone had bet him a million bucks he couldn’t make a hole in the dirt with his face. There was a noise like a bag hitting a floor, and the guy curled up tight and his blubber settled and went perfectly still.
Then he took the second guy out with a patented Jack Reacher head butt:
The feet were moving in a boxer’s shuffle, creating aim and momentum, and then the upper body was whipping forward, and the neck was snapping down, and the forehead was crunching into the bridge of the guy’s nose, and then snapping back up, job done, Reacher jerking upright, the guy from the half-ton staggering on rubber knees, half a step, and then the other half, and then a vertical collapse, weak and helpless, like a Victorian lady fainting into a crinoline.
Everyone knows that Jack Reacher headbutts, in addition to breaking every bone in your face, also make you weak LIKE A LADY. Speaking of ladies, the entire display made Reacher’s girlfriend super hot, so the went to a motel and totally did it. When he was done thrusting at her genitals, they talked about how good he was at headbutting:
Afterwards they lay spent and sweaty in tangled sheets, breathing hard, then breathing low. Turner got up on an elbow and stared at Reacher’s face, and ran her fingertips over his brow, slow and searching. She said, ‘It’s not even bruised.’
‘All bone,’ he said. ‘All the way through.’
Then she had to double check that he wasn’t a pussy that got scared of the possibility of fighting 8 dudes at the same time:
Turner said, ‘Were you worried?’
Reacher said, ‘About what?’
‘Those eight guys.’
Then Reacher got all philosophical and discussed how he can settle down and be doin’ fine, until he hears an old freight rollin’ down the line:
‘I think millions of years ago we were all living in small bands. Small groups of people. So there was a danger of inbreeding. So a gene evolved where every generation and every small band had at least one person who had to wander. That way the gene pools would get mixed up a little. Healthier all around.’
‘And you’re that person?’
‘I think ninety-nine of us grow up to love the campfire, and one grows up to hate it. Ninety-nine of us grow up to fear the howling wolf, and one grows up to envy it. And I’m that guy.’
‘Compelled to spread his DNA worldwide. Purely for the good of the species.’
‘That’s the fun part.’
‘That’s probably not an argument to make at your paternity hearing.’
Don’t worry, that paternity suit ended up just fine (not the father!) However, Reacher still had a couple of badass dudes (led by a really huge badass dude whose ears had been cut off) on his ass after that fight from the beginning of the book. Luckily for Reacher the bad guys made the mistake of only sending 2 dudes to follow Reacher onto a 5 hour airplane flight so they can kill him when he gets off. And, as we all know, Reacher’s never had a problem with those odds. So he just waits for the first guy’s seatmate to go to the bathroom and then Reacher strolls down the aisle, sits next to him and has a discussion….JACK REACHER STYLE:
He leaned forward, like he was going to head-butt the seat in front of him, and he rocked to his right, and he leaned back again, all one continuous fluid motion, so the guy ended up half trapped behind his right shoulder and his upper arm, and he reached over with his right hand and grabbed the guy’s right wrist, and he dragged the guy’s hand over towards him, twisting the wrist so the knuckles came first, with the palm facing away, and with his left hand he grabbed the guy’s right index finger, and he said, ‘Now you’ve got a choice. You can take it like a man, or you can scream like a little girl.’
And he broke the guy’s finger, by wrenching it down ninety degrees and snapping the first knuckle, and then he popped the second knuckle with the ball of his thumb. The guy jumped and squirmed and gasped in shock and pain, but he didn’t scream. Not like a little girl. Not with a hundred other people there.
Next Reacher broke his middle finger, in the same way, in the same two places, and then the guy started trying to get his trapped left arm free, which Reacher allowed, but only so he could swap hands and attend to the same two fingers on the other side.
Reacher’s girlfriend wasn’t so sure about about these kinds of airplane shenanigans, but she ended up going with it:
Reacher dumped the wallet in Turner’s lap and re-clipped his belt. She said, ‘What did you do to him?’
‘He won’t be pulling any triggers for a week or two. Or hitting anything. Or driving. Or buttoning his pants. He’s off the table. Prevention is better than cure. Get your retaliation in first.’
Turner didn’t answer.
‘I know,’ Reacher said. ‘Feral. What you see is what you get.’
‘No, it was good work.’
‘How did it look?’
‘He was hopping around a bit. I knew something was happening.’
Then Reacher waited for the next guy to go to the bathroom and fucked him up good too:
REACHER WAITED OUTSIDE the bathroom, patiently, lik a regular passenger, like the next man in line. The door was a standard bi-fold contraption, hinged on the right, cream in colour, and a little grimy. No surprises. Then he heard the sudden muted suck of the flush, and then there was a pause, for hand washing, he hoped, and then the red Occupied changed to a green Vacant, and the centre of the door pulled back, and its left-hand edge slid along its track, and as soon as it was three-quarters of the way home Reacher wheeled around and slammed the heel of his left hand through the widening gap and caught the guy in the chest and smashed him back into the bulkhead behind the toilet.
Reacher crammed in after him and closed the door again with a jerk of his hips. The space was tiny. Barely big enough for Reacher on his own. He was jammed hard up against the guy, chest to chest, face to face. He turned half left, so he was hip to hip, so he wouldn’t get kneed in the balls, and he jammed his right forearm horizontally into the guy’s throat, to pin him against the back wall, and the guy started wriggling and struggling, but uselessly, because he couldn’t move more than an inch or two. No swing, no momentum. Reacher leaned in hard and turned his own left hand backward and caught the guy’s right wrist, and rotated it like a doorknob, which meant that as the twist in Reacher’s arm unwound the exact same twist went into the other guy’s arm, more and more, harder and harder, relentlessly, until the guy really needed to do a pirouette or a cartwheel to relieve the agonizing pressure, which obviously he couldn’t, due to the complete lack of space. Reacher kept it going until the point of the guy’s elbow was facing directly towards him, and then he raised the guy’s arm, up and up, still twisting, until it was horizontal, an inch from the side wall, and then he took his forearm out of the guy’s throat and smashed his own elbow down through the guy’s elbow, shattering it, the guy’s arm suddenly folding the way no arm is designed to fold.
The guy screamed, which Reacher hoped would be muffled by the door, or lost in the sound of rushing air, and then the guy collapsed into a sitting position on the commode, and then Reacher broke his other arm, the same way, twist, twist, smash, and then he hauled him upright again by the collar and checked his pockets, an inch away, up close and personal, the guy still struggling, his thighs going like he was riding an imaginary bicycle, but generating no force at all because of the extreme proximity, Reacher feeling nothing more than a ripple.
The guy’s wallet was in his right hip pocket, the same as the previous guy. Reacher took it and turned to his left and jabbed the guy with his elbow, hard, in the centre of his chest, and the guy went back down on the toilet, and Reacher extricated himself from the tangle of flopping limbs, and shouldered out the door. He closed it behind him as much as he could, and then he walked the short distance back to his seat.
Reacher’s rules for airplane bathroom fighting: Watch your nuts and always make sure they wash their hands before you fight them. I was, however, a little disappointed that he didn’t switch the bathroom sign to “occupied” after he left. That’s a move about as classic as walking slowly away from an explosion without looking back.
Anyway, the rest of the book is your usual minor ass kickings and couplings with Turner. Though, as hot as the sex scenes were, they were nothing compared to the eroticism with which Reacher described the giant bad guy (named “Shrago”) with the cropped ears right before the final showdown:
Up close the guy looked extraordinary. The waistband of his pants was cinched in tight with a belt, and below it his thighs ballooned outward, and above it his chest swelled wide. He was maybe fifteen years younger than Reacher, a young bull, hard as a rock, with aggression coming off him like a smell.
Perhaps to give himself time to get his boner under control and attempt to suppress some of his more confusing urges, Reacher went ahead and gave Shrago a warning first:
He said, ‘Last chance, sergeant. Time to make the big decision. We know all about Scully, and Montague, and Morgan. The only way to save yourself is to start talking. A soldier’s best weapon is his brain. Time to start using yours. But either way I’m going to break your arm. Full disclosure. Because you hurt the girl in the Berryville Grill. Which was uncalled for. Do you have a problem with women? Was it women who cut your ears off?’
As anyone who read the first 17.5 Jack Reacher books might have guessed, Shrago decided to take the hard way:
Shrago planted his feet and twisted from the waist, violently, to his right, and downward a little, so fast that his left arm was flung way beyond him, so far that his bent back showed in the light. Next up would have been the same twist back again, even faster, even more violent, with the left arm carefully marshalled this time, with the elbow aiming for the far side of Reacher’s throat, with extension, so the blow would both do its job and serve as a kind of foothold, to lever himself onward to Turner.
Would have been.
Reacher knew it was coming, so he was moving a hair-trigger split second after Shrago was, matching Shrago’s twist with a twist of his own, like two dancers almost coordinated, with Reacher’s giant right fist hooking low to exactly where Shrago’s exposed kidney was about to arrive, because of his big turn, with Reacher all the time trying to parse the emotion, trying to judge how much of it was about the ears, and how much of it was about Scully and Montague, because the degree of passion in a cause’s defence was an indicator of its depth, and in the end he figured a lot of it was the ears, but some of it was defence, of something sweet and cosy and lucrative.
Then Shrago reached his point of equilibrium, all wound up like a spring, and he started to unwind the violent twist in the opposite direction, with his elbow coming up on target, but before he got even an inch into it Reacher’s right fist landed, a perfect hit, a paralysing blow to the kidney, a sick, stunning, spreading pain, and Shrago staggered, his coordination lost, his stance opening wide, and Reacher was left to unwind his own twist, all by himself in his own good time, which he did, with his left fist coming up low to high and finding the side of Shrago’s neck, below the corner of his jaw, a fast and heavy double tap, one, two, right, left, the kidney, the neck, which rocked Shrago the other way, leaving him upright but good for an eight count, which he didn’t get, because fighting in the dark on the edge of Lafayette Square was not a civilized sport with rules. Instead Reacher looked him over in the dim light and figured only one part of his body was harder than the bones of Shrago’s face, so he skipped in and head-butted him, right on the bridge of his nose, like a bowling ball swung fast, like there was a head on the floor at the end of the maple lane, right there at the point of release. Reacher danced back and Shrago stayed on his feet for a long second, and then his knees got the message that the lights were out upstairs, and he went down in a vertical heap, like he had jumped off a wall. Reacher rolled him on his front, with the sole of his boot, and then he bent down and got hold of a wrist, and twisted it until the arm was rigid and backward, and then he broke the elbow with the same boot sole.
The reason Reacher’s forehead is bone all the way down is probably because he’s built it up through constant headbutts.
After that it was just the usual routine details of solving the mystery of the dudes trying to kick his ass and breaking up with his girlfriend on account of Reacher being a “Ramblin’ Man.”