Make Me: A Middlebrow Page Turner

MAKE ME (2015)
Lee Child
Delacorte Press, 416 pages, 978-08041478778
* * *

Make Me is book number twenty in Lee Child's Jack Reacher mystery series. For Jack Reacher novices–or those who know the character only from Tom Cruise's limp movie portrayal– Reacher is what you might get if you crossed Robert Parker's Spenser with Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan sans the rah-rah flag-waving propensities. He doesn't play games and he doesn't care for convention, external judgment, or social niceties; when he unjustly fell under a cloud of suspicion, he resigned his Army commission and never looked back. Since 1997 Reacher has been drifting with no permanent address and only the clothes on his back. (When they become dirty, he buys new.) Like Spenser, his handle is his last name–no one has ever called him Jack. If you like tough-guy mysteries, Reacher fits the bill and the build–he's a large man with lethal-quick reflexes and always on the alert—as anyone would be who drinks as much coffee as he.  

You don't really need to know any of this to enjoy Make Me, a stand-alone novel that fills in the past where it's needed. Its basic premise is that sometimes adventure and danger find you even if you're not looking for them. Reacher is drifting between odd jobs and finds himself on a train rattling across an empty quadrant of Oklahoma so monotonous that the lights from a late-night piece of machinery provide brief entertainment. Reacher decides to get off the train at the next station solely because of its name: Mother's Rest. The grand plan is to learn why it bears such an odd name and then catch the next train out.  

That would make an awfully short book, wouldn't it? Instead he meets Michelle Chang, who initially mistakes Reacher for Keever, a man she's supposed to assist but hasn't showed up. Treat yourself to a cup of coffee if you're guessing the name of Mother's Rest isn't the oddest thing about the town. Buy yourself another cup if you think the story Chang tells Reacher makes him miss the train. Take the entire pot if you imagine the two of them will become partners (and more).

Chang is a lot like Reacher: solidly built, a stranger to fashion, a loner, and a PI forced out of the FBI by shady superiors. Our anti-glam pair set off to solve a case that begins with the question of Keever's whereabouts and veers into anhedonia, cryptic references to 200 deaths, the Deep Web, a Ukrainian mobster, a Los Angeles Times science writer, a suicide support network, and side trips to Chicago, LA, Oklahoma City, and San Francisco. At every step of the way, all signs point back to Mother's Rest and something even more sinister. But what?   

Child—the nom de plume for British writer Jim Grant–is very good at building suspense. He won't dazzle you with sterling prose or sparkling dialogue–Reacher is more laconic than the wisecracking Spenser and more jaded than Ryan­–but Child's books are plotted in ways that make you keep turning the pages, even though you suspect that what you're reading is on the lowbrow border of the middlebrow stop on the literature spectrum. Like many mystery novels, Make Me is best enjoyed with your improbability and skepticism meters set on low. Tolerance for the grisly is also in order. And don't go ballistic over the MacGuffins–one of which is the title, which seems to have been chosen for no reason other than it sounds like what one might name a hard-boiled detective novel.  

This book is exactly what it appears to be: a frisson-inducing diversion you can read in two or three sittings. It's pulp fiction, not college lit material; a guilty pleasure, not an intellectual workout. Go for it–at this time of the year it won't be the least nutritious thing you consume.  Rob Weir  


ephemeralist said...

He's excellent at suspense but "the grisly" is exactly what got me to stop reading them after a few.

Rob said...

I can appreciate that. I have a higher tolerance for reading than for viewing, but I avoid Tarantino films for the same reason.--RW