Top critical review
Slower paced and less action, marks the end of Reacher's Army career
Reviewed in the United States on July 27, 2018
In the canon of the long running Jack Reacher series by Lee Child “The Affair” is significant as it jumps back in time to 1997 and tells the story of Reacher’s final days in the US Army leading to his involuntary separation due to a reduction in force. In this sixteenth book in the saga we find Reacher under cover in his capacity as a Military Police investigator (he appears to be CID, Criminal Investigation Division which is the first time this distinction is made and explains a lot) in a small Mississippi town. There have been three murders of young women with all the same M.O. and suspicion that the killer might be a special ops soldier from the nearby base. The local sheriff is a beautiful (of course) ex-Marine provost marshal who may be harboring a few secrets of her own and naturally she and JR hook up. Throw in some high level interference from the Pentagon and above and our hero’s got his work cut out for him.
Unfortunately this is not Child’s best story, it is overly long at 528 pages and moves quite slowly which is atypical for him. Surprisingly there’s also quite a bit more sex in “The Affair” that’s described in more graphic detail than previous books and felt unnecessary. Also, there is remarkably little action; Reacher beats up a couple of local hillbillies from a large family of bottom feeders who then come back later on with two cousins for reinforcements and they too are summarily dispatched. Further along the persistent fellows bring another two (making 6) relations to confront Reacher and he takes them all out without breaking a sweat. Reacher also encounters some wannabe militia types in the woods, easily disarms three of them and executes one who confesses to killing an innocent young man earlier. Really, that’s about it which is a light body count for this character to chalk up in one of his adventures.
As with many of Mr. Child’s novels he continues to have problems with the details of U.S. military life and makes a number of errors here. To begin with, Sheriff Elizabeth Deveraux supposedly voluntarily separated from the USMC with 16 years of service because she feared being involuntarily separated due to force reductions. If her record was good and she made it that far she would very probably be allowed to remain in 4 more years to retirement eligibility at 20 years and be eligible for a decent pension and other benefits. More than once it’s mentioned her rank was Chief Warrant Officer 5 which is impossible. DoD pay charts don’t even list base pay for a CWO5 until 20 years of service so she could have never achieved that rank by 16 years; and if she had she could have continued on longer than that.
Reacher’s favorite NCO, Francis Neagley is back, this time around she is labeled as “First Sergeant” Neagley. First Sergeant is a duty title not a rank. In the Army a “diamond wearing” first sergeant is a Sergeant First Class (E-7) of Master Sergeant (E-8) who is serving in a position as senior enlisted member of a company sized unit. The 1SG is involved in the ‘care and feeding’ of the troops and has oversight of the orderly room, makes sure leave paperwork gets processed, and that a myriad of other personnel issues are accomplished. Given the type of job that Neagley has, the organization she belongs to, and the things she does in these books she seems way too busy to be a 1SG so probably is an SFC or MSG to be accurate. Child also continues to obsess over Neagley’s never seeking an officer’s commission as if it’s some sort of character flaw. Not everyone chooses to pursue a commission and many, many people prefer to work at the operational level of a non-commissioned officer and avoid the politics of being a commissioned officer. There’s nothing unusual about this whatsoever.
Later on a statement’s made “there certainly aren’t any senators in the army” but that’s not accurate either. Maybe none are on active duty but there a number of folks who serve in the various branches of the Guard and Reserves on vacation from their elected roles.
In describing subdued rank insignia on the old battle dress uniform (BDU) it’s stated that the “little black oak leaves” denote a Major (O-4) which is incorrect. Black oak leaves (silver on non-tactical uniforms) indicate a Lt. Colonel (O-5); Majors wear gold-brown colored oak leaves (gold on non-tactical uniforms). That should have been an easy thing to research with a quick Google inquiry.
In another discussion Reacher says the longest he’s ever been in one place has been “less than 6 months” which is just baloney. Typical officer assignments are 2-3 years; you need that long to learn the job and the people at that location and if nothing else to justify the expense of your government funded PCS (permanent change of station) move. Of course JR doesn’t really own anything so the cost would be negligible for him I’ll concede. Also in discussing the military promotion system Reacher says at one point “no one stays 5 years at the same rank. You’d have to be an idiot.” Well, that’s just not so and promotions are based on a number of factors governed by something called DOPMA which has been in effect since the 1970’s. The number of officers in a given pay grade is capped and promotions are tied to the vacancies in each grade as officers are promoted up, separate, or retire. There are general time in grade requirements too, these can change over time but in my day you had to wait 7 years to move from Captain to Major, it was a LONG wait. Being an “idiot” won’t help your chances of advancement but it’s more complicated than that.
Finally, near the conclusion of the tale JR pulls “the illicit Beretta from my Class A coat pocket” which gave me a laugh. A Beretta 92 which up until recently has been the standard issue military sidearm since the early 80’s is a very large pistol. It’s thick and heavy and stuffed in any of the pockets of a fitted military dress uniform it would print like crazy; you could see it a mile away. Considering this action takes place inside the Pentagon makes it even more ridiculous. A Walther PPK maybe, not a Beretta 92 in that uniform.
So, only 3-stars for “The Affair”, Child has written better and I plan to read every one because all of my fault-finding aside, these are still damned entertaining books. I just wish Mr. Child would do a little more homework on the military aspects of his stories; the errors possibly just sail over the heads of those without any prior service but his armed forces veteran readers probably cringe or roll their eyes at the frequent mistakes. On to “A Wanted Man”.