ROBBERS by Christopher Cook (No Exit Press £10.00 pp372)
ECHO BURNING by Lee Child (Bantam Press £9.99 pp397)
Reviewed by L. J. Hurst
ROBBERS is Christopher Cook's first novel. Even low-lifes get lonely, and Ray Bob and Eddie have been no different - they've paired-up. This was a mistake on Eddie's part, as he soon discovers that Ray Bob may have no route map, but he knows how to get them to Death Row PDQ.
Della is a hairdresser on minimum wage, looking for some company who'll buy the drinks in a smart hotel bar, and she's willing to spend time upstairs to show her appreciation. Pretty soon Della is out of the room, but with her knife left inside. So much inside that she feels she had better go on the lam. Unfortunately for Della, it is Ray Bob and Eddie who give her a lift.
We're in Texas, with some long distances to travel, some strange geography to explore, and the Texas Rangers to sit on the guys' tail. That's Rule Hooks, he's a near-lone Ranger, held back by poor ID on the killers, and the fact that his partner's wife is coming on strong. Rule thinks she's unhealthy, and he doesn't mean she's got a disease.
The cover-blurb says this is "a literary thriller", which means that Cook doesn't put quotation marks around the dialogue - it doesn't add much difficulty to the reading, since Eddie and Ray Bob are only just close to consciousness anyway, and Rule Hooks is the slow silent type.
A literary thriller can also miss the usual closure. Let's just say that Lee Child's Jack Reacher would not end the way that Rule Hooks ends this book. On the other hand the action in ECHO BURNING also starts with a lift, but this time it is a lady offering it to Jack, as he walks through the Texas heat in the big emptiness of Echo County. It is the sort of place a woman can be beaten by her husband and no one can hear her scream, Carmen Greer explains. That is why she wants Jack to kill him as soon as he comes out of gaol.
Jack, though, the tall former military policeman, with a wife he loves working away, has other ideas. They may not be legal, but they will be just.
Reacher is an unusual character in a thriller - one who thinks, and Lee Child has a rare ability to make the reader's deductions and Reacher's deductions slip into and out of step, creating tension without always having a man come through the door with a gun. But Reacher cannot deduce everything, because he cannot see everything; he cannot go everywhere. Even before Reacher has gone to the Greer ranch, the assassins have had the place under observation. Jack is several steps behind.
Someone once mourned: "Mexico - so far from God, so close to the United States". Texas is just over the border - from these two books you'd think it was a lot closer to the edge.
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This review first appeared in SHOTS The Magazine for Crime and Mystery
© L J Hurst 2007