Has enough action to dazzle even the pickiest thrill-seekers ... Jack Reacher is an intimidating figure, and Lee Child’s quick-witted, fast-paced style lends itself perfectly to his larger-than-life hero. Longtime readers of the series will pick up on an eerie vibe early on that’s reminiscent of Child’s first novel, The Killing Floor (1997), while also relishing the chance to finally learn a little more about the mysterious, Hulk-sized nomad who’s captivated readers for two decades ... Lee Child delivers another winner with Past Tense, a rip-roaring thriller that mixes action and suspense in a way that only he seems to be able to pull off.
As usual, the plot includes stretches of psychedelic dullness, in which Reacher’s egoless absorption in a process or data set—his strange, beetling focus on something (the local census, in this case)—makes the page blossom with boredom. But we go along with it; we assent, dazedly, to this level of teeming specificity. Every Reacher book I’ve read is about 100 pages too long. Somehow, I don’t care ... [Reacher] has a novelist’s eye for character ... His sharpest sense is his hearing. Reacher’s ear is bestially acute ... Reacher has an ear because Child has an ear ... the e-sounds are flat, and the a-sounds lengthen out, giving off a dim glow, a grassy phosphorescence, as the eye-beam diffuses in the darkness. That’s assonance, dude, like Wordsworth did it.
Child expertly juggles a pair of seemingly unrelated story lines, keeping them moving simultaneously, until, inevitably, the lines merge and violence ensues. The twenty-third Reacher novel springs some interesting surprises about Jack’s family and contains one of Reacher’s most cold-blooded acts of violence. As always, the prose is lean and efficient, the action scenes are well designed, and Reacher is as formidable an opponent as one could imagine (just this side of a Transformer). Another first-class entry in a series that continues to set the gold standard for aspiring thriller authors.
Takes a long old time to get going ... you can’t quite forget that Child, who tends to discover the plot as he writes rather than meticulously planning, hasn’t quite paced it right here. You could call it slow burn, but I think it’s more of a shilly shally ... Still. Child’s prose is always ultra-digestible. Even if his characters seem to speak the same sort of operating-manual language. And the last third or so of Past Tense, when the stories do eventually, belatedly, dovetail, is really pretty gripping. Busy, bloody and ingenious enough that you can almost forget you don’t really believe a word of how they got to be there in the first place.
The novel starts more slowly than typical Lee Child narratives. But the two stories eventually collide in a surprising way, and the last third of the novel is tense and exciting, invoking elements of 'Psycho' mixed with Stephen King.
Lee Child’s new novel is more measured—cerebral—in its exposition [than his previous novels], which allows for the suspense to more methodically reach its boiling point. There are still the signature explosive fights and confrontations that Reacher fans love, and he continues to dispatch those that dare perturb him or don't treat others right, no matter how tipped against him the odds may be ... A reader's heart often sinks when there are but 100 or so pages to the finish of a Reacher book. That's because we don't want Mr. Child's storytelling to end, however much one wants the suspense to be resolved ... The walls of two deadly and one family plot converge in the closing chapters of Past Tense. What has been said about being a 'page-turner,' the crescendo that propels a reader forward certainly applies here.
... Child stirs [the book's] two plots into a unique mix that’s often sweet and nostalgic but sometimes overflows with the righteous violence that defines Jack Reacher ... What is surprising are some of Child’s choices in Past Tense. One is his settings in the Laconia Library... always written with satisfying geometry and a light touch of humor ... Plain wisdom from that other rare bird, Lee Child.
... Child’s book... [is] sinuous, tight and addictive ... What ensues is a pair of entwined stories, handled with adroit calm by Child, each of which lets Reacher use his unique skills as a brilliant former military cop to investigate them: Sherlock Holmes set to ultraviolent mode. Child has his own flaws. There’s often a distracting sameness to the logic-driven interior lives of his characters, and Reacher’s incursion into that odd Laconia hotel directly recycles much of the dark web material of Child’s superb Make Me from 2015, a series highlight. But the concision, procedural chops and terse, surprising action of Past Tense make it a fantastic read.
Superb ... Child neatly interweaves multiple narratives, ratchets up the suspense and delivers a powerful, satisfying denouement. Fans will enjoy learning more of this enduring character’s roots, and Child’s spare prose continues to set a very high bar.
The tone doesn't go blooey here, as it has in some of the recent series entries, and the way everything winds up for all the participants shows a satisfying generosity of storytelling spirit ... The Reacher series gets back on its rough and rocky track with this latest companionable entry.