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Book Nook - 20-11-2017

Monday, November 20, 2017
By Deepa Gahlot

There are Lit Fests taking place all over the country, but the community of readers is dwindling. Still, passionate book lovers would like to know what others like themselves are reading. This Book Nook suggests some books, but would also like to connect with serious readers, or even casual airport book browsers. Do write in about books you have loved or hated and why. The best entries will be shared on this page. Please send your recommendations to adc.booknook@gmail.com

The Nowhere Man
Lee Child’s creation Jack Reacher is a fascinating character. Leaving his army past behind, he lives like a vagabond, travelling to random places with no more luggage than a toothbrush in his pocket. He moves about constantly, sleeps whenever and wherever he can; when his clothes get too dirty, he simply buys new ones and chucks the old. He takes life as it comes, but does not hesitate in interfering if he sees a crime being committed or some injustice being done. His body is built for endurance, his mind never shuts down and his wisecracks bubble up at just the right moment.

He is tall, muscular, hefty and a fighter no ordinary mortal can take on in hand-to-hand combat. Very few can match his astute reading of people—their behavior and their motives. No Middle Name is a collection of short stories starring Jack Reacher, that gives some glimpses of his growing up years and indicates what makes him the way he is.

The younger son of a marine, Reacher and his smart older brother Joe, grew up on several military bases, which is probably why he never formed any deep friendships or connections with other people.  Reacher does not have a middle name, but his first name, Jack, is also never used.

Even as a kid, as the story Second Son, set in Okinawa, shows, he is prepared for a fight and his “lizard brain” is as sharp as ever.  In High Heat, set in New York in 1977,  he is a teenager travelling alone, looking for adventure and no-strings-attached romance, when he gallantly step in to save a woman from being beaten in the street, only to discover that she is an FBI agent and the man belongs to a notorious gang. Soon the mob is after him, and the city suffers a sudden blackout. In the dark and in sweltering heat, Reacher gets a girl to drive him around, thrashes the gang boss, and also manages to point the cops towards dreaded serial killer Son of Sam.

The compliation begins with Too Much Time, in which Reacher, just taking a walk in a small nondescript town, sees a bag-snatch taking place, catches the thief, is persuaded by the local cops to give a witness statement and finds himself in the midst of a conspiracy. He is arrested for being an accomplice and somebody up in the chain wants him dead for a reason he fathoms as he goes along.

The reader is grabbed by the neck with the intrigue and suspense in this one, and Lee Child simply does not let go till the last page has been turned. This story leads to The Midnight Line, the the 22nd Reacher novel, just out.

No Middle Name: The Complete Collected Jack Reacher Short Stories
By Lee Child
Publisher: Delacote
Pages: 432


Excerpt of No Middle Name:
Sixty seconds in a minute, sixty minutes in an hour, twenty-­four hours in a day, seven days in a week, fifty-­two weeks in a year. Reacher ballparked the calculation in his head and came up with a little more than thirty million seconds in any twelve-­month span. During which time nearly ten million significant crimes would be committed in the United States alone. Roughly one every three seconds. Not rare. To see one actually take place, right in front of you, up close and personal, was not inherently unlikely. Location mattered, of course. Crime went where people went. Odds were better in the center of a city than the middle of a meadow.

Reacher was in a hollowed-­out town in Maine. Not near a lake. Not on the coast. Nothing to do with lobsters. But once upon a time it had been good for something. That was clear. The streets were wide, and the buildings were brick. There was an air of long-­gone prosperity. What might once have been grand boutiques were now dollar stores. But it wasn’t all doom and gloom. Those dollar stores were at least doing some business. There was a coffee franchise. There were tables out. The streets were almost crowded. The weather helped. The first day of spring, and the sun was shining.

Reacher turned in to a street so wide it had been closed to traffic and called a plaza. There were café tables in front of blunt red buildings either side, and maybe thirty people meandering in the space between. Reacher first saw the scene head-­on, with the people in front of him, randomly scattered. Later he realized the ones that mattered most had made a perfect shape, like a capital letter T. He was at its base, looking upward, and forty yards in the distance, on the crossbar of the T, was a young woman, walking at right angles through his field of view, from right to left ahead of him, across the wide street, direct from one sidewalk to the other. She had a canvas tote bag hooked over her shoulder. The canvas looked to be medium weight, and it was a natural color, pale against her dark shirt. She was maybe twenty years old. Or even younger. She could have been as young as eighteen. She was walking slow, looking up, liking the sun on her face.

Then from the left-­hand end of the crossbar, and much faster, came a kid running, head-­on toward her. Same kind of age. Sneakers on his feet, tight black pants, sweatshirt with a hood on it. He grabbed the woman’s bag and tore it off her shoulder. She was sent sprawling, her mouth open in some kind of breathless exclamation. The kid in the hood tucked the bag under his arm like a football, and he jinked to his right, and he set off running down the stem of the T, directly toward Reacher at its base.

Then from the right-­hand end of the crossbar came two men in suits, walking the same sidewalk-­to-­sidewalk direction the woman had used. They were about twenty yards behind her. The crime happened right in front of them. They reacted the same way most people do. They froze for the first split second, and then they turned and watched the guy run away, and they raised their arms in a spirited but incoherent fashion, and they shouted something that might have been Hey! Then they set out in pursuit. Like a starting gun had gone off. They ran hard, knees pumping, coattails flapping. Cops, Reacher thought. Had to be. Because of the unspoken unison. They hadn’t even glanced at each other. Who else would react like that?

Forty yards in the distance the young woman scrambled back to her feet, and ran away. The cops kept on coming. But the kid in the black sweatshirt was ten yards ahead of them, and running much faster. They were not going to catch him. No way. Their relative numbers were negative.

Now the kid was twenty yards from Reacher, dipping left, dipping right, running through the broken field. About three seconds away. With one obvious gap ahead of him. One clear path. Now two seconds away. Reacher stepped right, one pace. Now one second away. Another step. Reacher bounced the kid off his hip and sent him down in a sliding tangle of arms and legs. The canvas bag sailed up in the air and the kid scraped and rolled about ten more feet, and then the men in the suits arrived and were on him. A small crowd pressed close. The canvas bag had fallen about a yard from Reacher’s feet. It had a zipper across the top, closed tight. Reacher ducked down to pick it up, but then he thought better of it. Better to leave the evidence undisturbed, such as it was. He backed away a step. More onlookers gathered at his shoulder. The cops got the kid sitting up, dazed, and they cuffed his hands behind him. One cop stood guard and the other stepped over and picked up the canvas bag. It looked flat and weightless and empty. Kind of collapsed. Like there was nothing in it. The cop scanned the faces all around him and fixed on Reacher. He took a wallet from his hip pocket and opened it with a practiced flick. There was a photo ID behind a milky plastic window. Detective Ramsey Aaron, county police department. The picture was the same guy, a little younger and a lot less out of breath.

Aaron said, “Thank you very much for helping us out with that.”

Reacher said, “You’re welcome.”

“Did you see exactly what happened?”

“Pretty much.” “Then I’ll need you to sign a witness statement.”

“Did you see the victim ran away afterward?” “No, I didn’t see that.”

“She seemed OK.”

“Good to know,” Aaron said. “But we’ll still need you to sign a statement.”

“You were closer to it all than I was,” Reacher said. “It happened right in front of you. Sign your own statement.”

“Frankly, sir, it would mean more coming from a regular person. A member of the public, I mean. Juries don’t always like police testimony. Sign of the times.”

Reacher said, “I was a cop once.”

“Where?” “In the army.” “Then you’re even better than a regular person.” “I can’t stick around for a trial,” Reacher said. “I’m just passing through. I need to move on.”
“There won’t be a trial,” Aaron said. “If we have an eyewitness on the record, who is also a military veteran, with law enforcement experience, then the defense will plead it out. Simple arithmetic. Pluses and minuses. Like your credit score. That’s how it works now.” Reacher said nothing. “Ten minutes of your time,” Aaron said. “You saw what you saw. What’s the worst thing could happen?”

 

ALSO RECEIVED
The title of the book by Devasis-- Without Prejudice: Epic Tale Of A Mumbai Bar Dancer—gives a hint of what it is about. The attractive cover of the back of a woman in red, leads to the novel about Pallave. Says the synopsis, “Is a woman’s body her own? How far does her freedom extend? What can she do when social traditions, laws of the land and above all, prejudices of individuals, bind her down; make her a slave to her own identity and turn her into a commodity to be bought and sold? How can she turn back the tidal wave of social events set loose by the origins and consequences of various social traditions?

“These and other questions rise in the mind of the reader who navigates the pages of the novel and follows the life of Pallavi, through her eyes and the eyes of the two men who play pivotal roles in her odyssey—Rajkumar and Roy, characters the author has lovingly sketched, as he takes the reader through a journey in time.”

Without Prejudice: Epic Tale Of A Mumbai Bar Dancer
By Devasis
Publisher: Olive Turtle
Pages: 311

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