Killing Floor by Lee Child

Killing Floor by Lee ChildKilling Floor by Lee Child
Narrator: Dick Hill
Series: Jack Reacher #1
Published by Brilliance Audio on 6/3/8
Genres: Suspense

Book: B-
Narration: B+

Jack Reacher is a former army MP (Military Police.) His job was essentially downsized (definitely an indicator of this book’s original publication date of 1997) and he now finds himself wandering the U.S. and enjoying his freedom while deciding what he wants to do next. A casual mention about Blind Blake (a blues/jazz guitar player who died sixty years earlier) in a letter from the brother he rarely communicates with gives Reacher a reason to wander through Margrave, Georgia. He has just arrived and is eating breakfast when the local police storm the diner and arrest him for murder. After he’s moved to the state prison for weekend detainment along with a man named Hubble who is also believed to be involved in the crime, there is an attempt on his life which he handily thwarts.

When his alibi checks out and Reacher is released, he puts his roaming plans on hold in order to spend some time with the oh-so attractive officer Roscoe who seems to have developed an instant attraction to him when she saw him in custody. The discovery of another body leads the chief of detectives, Finlay, to call Reacher back in to ask him to divulge what Hubble may have shared with him while they were in jail. When it turns out that Reacher knew the second dead man, that relationship and his experience as an MP inexorably draws him into an investigation of the criminal activities taking place in Margrave. The action continues to escalate as the details of what is going on in Margrave are slowly revealed and the book builds to an action-packed and exciting climax.

This book is a bit outside my usual listening habits but I’ve pimped every audiobook in this series out to the men in my life and they enjoyed them a lot so I thought it was time I listened to one. I’m not sure I would have chosen now to start except my friend Teri suggested we do a co-listen. Doing a co-listen was especially nice with this book because it allowed me to engage in a great discussion about the genre conventions that might typify what, in the privacy of my own mind when my inner feminist is napping, I sometimes think of as “guy books.” I’m stating for the record that I’m using just the characters’ last names in this review not because I’ve forgotten their first names but because almost everyone in the book is called only by their last name. In fact, I don’t think we even find out what the first names of three-quarters of the characters are.

I liked a lot about this book and disliked an equal number of things but overall I enjoyed the action that drove the story forward and at some point will listen to more in this series.

On the plus side:

  • The opening scene is arguably one of the most immediately engaging scenes I have read and it drew me in to the story completely
  • Reacher is an interesting character with a lot of potential for development in future books and he was more multi-dimensional than I was expecting
  • The practical part of my nature (that’s a pretty significant part) appreciates the tough protagonist who is willing to eliminate any possible threats and doesn’t leave potential enemies alive to attack from his back-trail
  • The action scenes were very well written
  • The mystery/suspense was decent
  • Dick Hill’s narration was very good

On the negative side:

  • There was an overload of simple dialogue tags (…” he said. …” she said.)
  • There were far too many question tags within dialogue. Characters seemed to continuously end sentences with “OK?” or “Right?”. This is not unexpected as a speech pattern in real-life but in fiction it’s distracting and it becomes an odd writer’s quirk when it happens in the dialogue of four or more characters who don’t even know each other. There were also an uncommonly high number of repeated descriptions. For example:

“Because the children were asleep on the office floor. Hubble’s kids. Ben and Lucy. Sprawled out on a pile of empty burlap sacks. Fast asleep, wide open and innocent like only sleeping children can be. They were filthy and ragged. Still dressed in their school clothes from Monday. They looked like ragamuffins in a sepia picture of old New York. Sprawled out, fast asleep.”

  • The only female characters in the book (one a theoretically competent policewoman) ended up in a perilous situation that required they be rescued by the men in the story
  • Despite his civilian status and personal stake in the murder, Reacher’s presence in the investigation was invited/accepted by Finlay which is a common device in books but an eye-roller nonetheless
  • Lee Child employs the “Checkov’s gun” literary technique where “One must not put a loaded rifle on the stage if no one is thinking of firing it.” In this book, few/no extraneous details are included that don’t become significant plot items later. I tend to prefer more textual camouflage in my stories

The narration was very good. Dick Hill paced his delivery perfectly to keep the story moving forward and portray the tension of the action scenes. I didn’t hear the expected Boston accent when Finley spoke but he did have a lovely James Earl Jones-sounding voice – a fact that made it dangerous for me to listen to this audio when I was ready for bed because I would inevitably fall asleep during long scenes with Finlay’ soothing voice lulling me. I didn’t buy the female voices Hill created but that’s a consistent problem between me and most male narrators so I’ll take the blame for that one. Reacher was given a nice blend of cool practicality combined with just enough emotional inflection to prevent the listener from disconnecting from his character.

An enjoyable audiobook with action sequences that carry the story along nicely. There are some “first book” writing issues that will hopefully smooth out as I progress through the series.