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No Middle Name: The Complete Collected Jack Reacher Short Stories


No Middle Name: The Complete Collected Jack Reacher Short Stories

NO MIDDLE NAME: The Complete Collected Jack Reacher Short Stories does everything that a short story collection should --- and must --- do. It gives the reader, as its subtitle indicates, all of the Jack Reacher short stories to date. Lee Child is known primarily for his novels, and it is possible that a portion of his fan base is unaware of the existence of any short stories involving Reacher. This book fills that gap, while providing even the most diligent fan and reader of all things Reacher a story that has yet to be published, as well as some more readily and easily available as eBooks and a few that have seen the light of day only in publications as disparate as Country Life and The New York Times.

NO MIDDLE NAME also serves as an easily accessible introduction to the literary interpretation of Reacher for those who know him only as a film character or, perhaps, not at all. Every story here is of sufficient high quality (more on that in just a moment) to attract new readers to the long-running series or bring back those who may have wandered off.

However, the primary task that the book fulfills is to demonstrate to the reading public Child’s superlative writing skill set. I was approximately halfway through the collection when I felt an itch at my brain stem that was ultimately scratched by two words: “Father Brown.” G. K. Chesterton, a philosopher and theologian, wrote a series of profound mystery stories featuring a Catholic priest named Father Brown that served as a vehicle for a subtle presentation of Chesterton’s wisdom and beliefs. It struck me while reading these stories that Child is kind of doing the same thing here, with a very different character and a somewhat different philosophy. Brown was concerned with the salvation assured in the next world for those who followed the Word of God; Reacher is primarily concerned with getting through this world, one day at a time. The stories here are full of mystery and, yes, a lot of danger, but the messages are instructional on how to get through the day by observing --- having a “Plan B” and doing unto others before they do unto you, to name just a few.

"Whether you are a diehard Reacher fan or otherwise, NO MIDDLE NAME is filled with unforgettable stories that feature a lesser known side of Child, as well as Reacher’s hidden history."

A fair number of the stories in NO MIDDLE NAME occur before and during Reacher’s U.S. Army days. Two, in fact, deal with his teenage years and demonstrate the truism that the child is father to the man. “Second Son” takes place in California and displays the 15-year-old Reacher at almost full physical and intellectual development. Within a few days of arriving at the latest in a series of Marine bases with his parents and older brother, Reacher solves a couple of mysteries and deals up with the base bully. There are no particular surprises here, other than that Reacher’s deductive powers obviously blossomed at an early age. That, though, is the tale’s ultimate strength. The story is so well written that I very much would be interested in seeing an entire series of books featuring a teenage Jack Reacher solving mysteries and righting wrongs, though certainly at this stage Child would have no reason for such an undertaking.

“High Heat,” the other coming-of-age story, takes place on a very fateful night in New York, where Reacher is, you could say, delayed on his way to visit his brother at West Point. It features a 17-year-old Reacher, already displaying his penchant for wanderlust and travel, finding himself in the middle of one historic event and instrumental in the closure of another, while experiencing baptisms by fire and passion to boot.

As for his Army days, “Deep Down” and “Small Wars” demonstrate Reacher’s investigative skills. “Deep Down” reveals, among other things, his abilities to effectively deal with people in the workplace (seriously) and to utilize broken field running under fire while attempting to ferret out an intelligence leak that is potentially jeopardizing the creation and funding of a new rifle. “Small Wars” is relatively sedate, other than the murder that Reacher must investigate. Child lets the reader know who the culprit is in real time with the crime; the issue is whether or not Reacher will smoke out the bad guy, and what he is going to do about it if he does. A third Army story, “James Penney’s New Identity,” is special, in that Reacher does not appear until almost the end, though he is extremely effective when he does so.

Is there more? You bet. There are an even dozen stories in NO MIDDLE NAME, including two holiday tales, one titled “Maybe They Have a Tradition,” which takes place on a snowy Christmas morning in England, and another, “No Room at the Motel,” which has become my favorite Christmas story. It might actually be my favorite Reacher story period. Child doesn’t take Reacher out of character for this one, which plays out at the end of a highway exit in the middle of a snowstorm. He just reveals a side of that character that is frequently exhibited, though not in this particular manner. My favorite story in the collection after “No Room at the Motel” (which you don’t have to wait until Christmas to read) is “The Picture of the Lonely Diner,” which demonstrates that there are some problems not even Reacher can solve.

Whether you are a diehard Reacher fan or otherwise, NO MIDDLE NAME is filled with unforgettable stories that feature a lesser known side of Child, as well as Reacher’s hidden history. One also raises a question: Did Reacher return to New York on the night of June 13, 1978? Maybe that will be answered in a future tale. In the meantime, we have these.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on May 19, 2017

No Middle Name: The Complete Collected Jack Reacher Short Stories
by Lee Child