Why MAKE ME by Lee Child gets graded on a curve

MAKE ME by Lee Child

I can’t count how many hardcover Reacher novels line the top shelf of my library. Lee Child is that good.

MAKE ME is his latest novel about Reacher, and it’s also good.

Not bad. Not great.

Acceptable.

Once again, our hero is (a) wandering the small towns of America only to (b) bump into a beautiful girl with a gun who (c) is investigating Some Crazy Problem Involving This Small Town.

This is also the plot of about 17 other Reacher novels.

The towns change. The nature of the evil plot changes. The women change.

Reacher never does

Lee Child is one of my favorite authors, the greatest living thriller writer, and Reacher is a great character. The brain of Sherlock Holmes shoved into the body of the Hulk, funny, smart and tough. A great hero.

HOWEVER: Child isn’t stretching a single writing muscle here. Don’t think he even had to warm up.

It’s as if the devil snuck into his bedroom late one night and said, “If I promise you riches and fame, the price being you have to write the same book every year—year after year, until you die—do we have a deal?”

If we’re grading Child against other thriller authors, he gets an A.

But we’re not. There’s a huge body of work, that top shelf full of Reacher novels already written. MAKE ME sits among them.

Not bad. Not great.

Acceptable.

There is proof that Lee Child can blow expectations out of the water, when he does feel like stretching those writing muscles.

One of the few first-person POV novels he did, THE ENEMY, slayed me with clever clues, revelations and twists. I’ve read it again and again. A great mystery, and the only novel featuring Reacher in the Army.

That’s not a coincidence.

No such thing.

I hope the next novel picks up the mold in Reacher’s big, strong hands and smashes it against the asphalt. That it doesn’t feature a beautiful girl with a gun and a badge who teams up with Reacher, sleeps with him, takes down the bad guys and disappears, like all the others.

I hope the villain is memorable and, for once, a match for the hero. I hope Reacher has to truly suffer, sacrifice and change to actually win.

I hope.

Verdict: MAKE ME gets four out of five folding toothbrushes.

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5 thoughts on “Why MAKE ME by Lee Child gets graded on a curve

  1. Because you and my eighty-something Dad are mad for Jack Reacher, I headed over to Amazon, after reading this post, to see what all the fuss is about and to read the bit of MAKE ME that’s freely available When the Tom Cruise film version came out I had to suffer through endless Reacher on a loop, after my husband got hooked, having no idea that Reacher supposedly has the mind of ‘Sherlock Holmes in the body of the Hulk’ – maybe someone should have told the casting dept. this when they went for the non-cerebral, pint-sized Cruise 🙂

    Lee Child is nothing if not an easy read, judging by the Amazon freebie; looks like he uses one word, where maybe 27 would have been better – but that’s just me, I like a wordy turn of phrase. Your red pen of doom would be idle where Mr Child is concerned 🙂

    Will try one of the books though, even though murder and mayhem are not my thing.

    Just getting brave enough to add my pennysworth to the comments section and hoping it works 🙂

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  2. At this point I’ve read at least 6 Jack Reacher novels. I really enjoyed THE AFFAIR and ECHO BURNING. Unfortunately, I’ve started to stumble across the repetitiveness you describe. Janet Evanovich runs into this problem with her Stephanie Plum books. So far, only three out of the 22 have let me down, which isn’t too bad. It is disappointing to see a good writer get into a rut. That it’s a successful rut somehow makes that worse.

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  3. When Lee Child first introduced Jack Reacher, I, along with so many, enjoyed each novel and anxiously waited for the next one to arrive. Reacher was a character that stood for what was right and no matter in what situation he found himself, he triumphed. His handling of each situation was believable and the novels were fun to read. The last few have become formulaic and somewhat unbelievable. Child, like Louis L’Amour, has written one story over and over. In Make Me, I knew what was going to happen before I cracked open the book and in that regard was not let down. But unlike, L’Amour, Child treats readers as if we have an IQ of 60. For that reason alone, this will be my last Reacher novel.

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  4. I enjoyed reading this, particularly as I have this one on my TBR pile. You’re right – I loved PERSONAL and as you say, his prose is so beautifully spare and Reacher is so well realised, but they do vary in quality. When I get to it, I’ll let you know how I get on:).

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  5. I don’t consider Lee Child to be all that great.

    I can’t make it through the Reacher novels anymore. I think I read one or two early ones but he REALLY doesn’t understand military life/training/mindset. Just about every prior service guy I know says the same thing (not a huge data set but a consistent one for me). If he was writing another kind of thriller, maybe not a dealbreaker but with his main character supposedly a MI officer…it rubs. And the more I read, the more it rubbed.

    I got through about 15 min of the Tom Cruise movie, right up until he gave the ‘some guys join the military just to kill’ speech. After that, I killed the DVD player and found something else to do.

    That’s probably more of my $02 than you want. If you like ’em, fine but Child’s laziness is offensive to me.

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