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Author: Lee Child

Title: The Affair

Publisher: Bantam Press

Hardback: 427 pages

ISBN: 978-0-593-06570-9

Price: £18.99

Publication Date: 29/09/2011

A Lee Child novel entitled The Affair! I have to admit that I, much like a number of Child fans that I have spoken to recently, was rather bemused by it as a title. It sounds, to be frank, like it should be adorning a romance novel. But, once you get beyond the slightly suspect name of the novel, the book itself proves to be a great addition to the Reacher oeuvre, exploring his time as a Military Policeman and taking place in 1997 just before the onset of Child’s first novel, Killing Floor [thus finally revealing why he left the military]. In effect it is the Reacher creation myth, and finds its man-mountainous anti-hero in a reflective mood as he recollects and reinterprets – through his first-person narrative – an early and seminal period in his life. Thus the Reacher of The Affair is a younger, less experienced and infinitely more fallible figure than seasoned Child fans will be used to – but it is something that Child uses to great effect to add more depth and history to Reacher’s character.

Sent to a remote town, Carter Crossing, in Mississippi, one near an Army base, Reacher must go undercover in the town and provide support for an investigator on the base who is trying to ascertain whether or not army personnel are responsible for the brutal slaying of a local woman. But he comes under suspicion from the beautiful Sheriff, who is ex-military and hiding her own secrets, and ultimately Reacher must make a decision – does he choose the right way, or the Army way…

All of the usual ingredients are at play in this novel – there’s the small, remote town, there’s Reacher as the lone outsider dispensing justice as only he can [and drinking horrific amounts of coffee!], and there’s violence [although a lot less than you would expect, especially by Child’s standards!]. But it was also intriguing to see the gritty Reacher of recent novels replaced by a far younger and more naïve version, far less jaded by the world but still as intelligent and sharp as you would expect.

If I had a gripe with the novel then it would be the ‘bedroom scenes’ – the actual descriptions of Reacher having sex are a bit uncomfortable [for the reader!] and it also rather destroys the mystique of what Reacher is like in the bedroom. Love scenes are notoriously difficult to get right and Child’s complex and pin-sharp prose style certainly didn’t lend itself well to these scenes, at least in my opinion.

Ultimately though, these sections were the only moments that felt jarringly out of sync with the rest of the novel. For The Affair is a page-turning and enthralling prequel – one that is driven forward by Child’s punchy prose, crisp dialogue and his gigantic multi-layered protagonist [a man who, despite his blunt and rugged exterior, continues to evolve and fascinate the reader – a remarkable feat for a character in his sixteenth outing].

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