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'A Wanted Man' review: A Jack Reacher thrill ride

"A Wanted Man" by Lee Child (Delacorte, September

"A Wanted Man" by Lee Child (Delacorte, September 2012)

A WANTED MAN: A Jack Reacher Novel, by Lee Child. Delacorte, 416 pp., $28.

Lee Child's latest Jack Reacher novel offers fans some solace after the vexing news that Tom Cruise will play Child's imposing hero in a film version due out later this year. The casting of Cruise -- who stands nowhere near Reacher's 6-foot-5 and doesn't exactly look like a former military police officer who can kill bad guys with his bare hands -- angered the purists, who perhaps had a taller, broader, less-movie-star-handsome Reacher in mind.

But now they can set aside the crankiness, at least long enough to read "A Wanted Man." The 17th novel in Child's feverishly thrilling series reminds us that whatever happens on the screen can't affect the pure, giddy rush we get reading undiluted Reacher, straight from Child's fertile imagination.

You might think reading a novel that is essentially one long chase scene would grow exhausting or repetitive, but you'd be wrong. Child keeps the pacing swift and the surprises rolling. The book literally starts on the road: Reacher, nursing a broken nose, tries to hitch a ride out of chilly Nebraska with hopes of ending up in Virginia, where there is a woman he very much wants to meet.

After 90 long minutes, a car stops for him. Two men in front, a woman in the back. Their agenda is murky, but Reacher quickly realizes something is wrong and that his chances of getting to Virginia in a timely manner are slim.

This ride-gone-wrong takes Reacher through the mom-and-pop motels, the open-all-night gas stations and the strangely ominous wide-open spaces of the Heartland, which Child renders with precision in calm, spare prose: "Iowa was a lonely state. Exits were many miles apart. Each one was an event in its own right." Reacher joins forces with heroic federal agents and honest local sheriffs -- and runs into bumblers in both camps. The plot twists through an alphabet soup of covert agencies and dangerous terrorists, homegrown and from afar.

Most appealing of all is Reacher, of course, the tough guy who has become a national favorite, never one to wave the flag but determined to do the right thing and always on hand to give justice a push so it can prevail.

So forget about Cruise. Maybe he's a stretch to play Reacher, who "rumbled along with typical big-man languor, often appearing quiet and lazy, sometimes appearing positively comatose. Then if necessary he could explode into furious action, for as long as it took, a blur of hands and feet."

With Child, you can always count on furious action -- and a damned good time.

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