Review by Mike Dennis

I decided to read Tripwire after Lee Child told me that even though he’d never been to Key West, he set the beginning of this novel there because it seemed like a good idea at the time. Since Key West is my adopted hometown (I’ve lived there longer than I’ve ever lived anywhere), I wanted to see if he brought the setting to life.

The 1999 novel starts off with a healthy dose of Key West atmosphere. Jack Reacher is sitting in a dark bar whose décor includes fishing gear and thousands of business cards, when a stranger steps up next to him and says, “Are you Jack Reacher?”

Of course, Reacher denies it, but learns that the man, who calls himself Costello, is a private investigator from New York in town looking for Reacher on behalf of a client. Later, Reacher encounters two tough guys with New York accents who are also looking for him. Pretty soon, Costello turns up dead and Reacher is overcome with guilt. Before you can say “Margaritaville”, he heads for New York to find out why Costello was looking for him.

The whys and the wherefores take up the rest of the 559-page book, as Reacher is inexorably drawn into Wall Street intrigue, family tragedies, and the complex politics of Vietnam MIAs. Bad guys abound, stalking him at every turn, keeping his reflexes sharp as he moves through New York, St Louis, and Hawaii.

Child writes this stuff very well, keeping the reader pinned to the page with Reacher’s conflicts and wry observations on the immediate world around him. The tension, which is the strong suit of a Child novel, builds continuously, but primarily in non-Reacher scenes. This technique enables Reacher to go about his business of piecing the puzzle together without having to shoot people every time he turns around. Quick scene-to-scene cutting keeps the reader’s attention from straying as the plot unfolds in rapid fashion. Reacher pulls a girl by the hand through the book in his scenes, while the real tension is mounting elsewhere, drawing Reacher and the reader toward the climax.

Even though Tripwire is one of the earlier Reacher efforts, it reads like the character is well-known to all, like he’s been around for decades. And the way Child is going these days, I’m sure Reacher won’t be retiring anytime soon.

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