All is not well in Margrave, Georgia.
The sleepy, forgotten town hasn't seen a crime in decades, but within the span of three days it witnesses events that leave everyone stunned. An unidentified man is found beaten and shot to death on a lonely country road. The police chief and his wife are butchered on a quiet Sunday morning. Then a bank executive disappears from his home, leaving his keys on the table and his wife frozen with fear.
The easiest suspect is Jack Reacher - an outsider, a man just passing through. But Reacher is not just any drifter. He is a tough ex-military policeman, trained to think fast and act faster. He has lived with and hunted the worst: the hard men of the American military gone bad.
Although the tale is built around a coincidence as big as the author's talent, beautifully detailed action scenes and fascinating arcana about currency and counterfeiting enliven this taut and tough-minded first novel by British TV writer Child. Out of sheer restlessness and rootlessness, 36-year-old ex-military policeman Jack Reacher persuades a Greyhound bus driver to make an unscheduled stop in Margrave, the small Georgia town where Reacher's brother, a U.S. Treasury official, just happens to have been murdered a few hours earlier. Reacher doesn't know about his brother's death or suspect his presence in the town. Indeed, when he's arrested in a local diner for being a conspicuously mysterious stranger, Reacher tells the detective who interviews him that he dropped off the bus to investigate the death of Blind Blake, a guitar player murdered in Margrave 60 years ago. Downsized out of the military, Reacher has cutting-edge investigative and killing skills that come in handy the moment he learns of his brother's murder. This combination of events is so unbelievably convenient that it almost overwhelms the book's solid writing. The reader expects the other shoe to drop-for Reacher to be revealed as an undercover agent, or some such; but it never does. Otherwise, Child writes with a hand as strong and steady as steel. Margrave is a wonderful creation, a seemingly picture- perfect community under the care of a mysterious foundation where the streets are always swept and the people who run the tiny local businesses get grants of $1000 a week to stay open. Two scenes of brutal violence in a nearby prison are rendered with exquisite precision, as is a stalking murder inside the baggage area of the Atlanta airport, and the vast counterfeiting conspiracy that Reacher's brother was probing is wholly credible. (Mar.)