Gone Tomorrow is the latest outing for Jack Reacher, Lee Child's endearingly muscular ex-military cop turned civilian vigilante. Whenever the bad guys are just too heavy and too numerous and the odds ridiculous, send for Reacher: he will sort it. He is like a well-built, gruff, grizzly guardian angel. There is indeed something godlike not only in his physique but in his sense of justice. Reacher is, in his relentless, hard-as-nails way, the closest the contemporary thriller comes to a surrogate, secular Almighty.
The attention-grabbing opening finds Reacher on a late-night subway train in New York, in which one of the women passengers looks like a dead-cert suicide bomber. That initial encounter inevitably propels Reacher into a showdown with al-Qa'ida itself. His adventure is like a partial revenge for 9/11.
For all his short declarative sentences, there is a certain harsh urban poetry in Child's writing. He does for New York what Joyce does for Dublin, turning it into a dreamy city of the mind, the capital of a country that does not exist, as Reacher weaves around the mean streets, zeroing in on his target.
Reacher is even-handed in the dispensation of rough justice, which is why there are equal numbers of Feds and mujahideen after him. One of Child's distinctive features is that his disillusioned outsider enables him to be as tough on American foreign policy as on out-and-out hostiles. Homeland security of the Patriot Act era seems as destructive as the terror it is designed to fight. But politically correct this is not. The head-count includes a notable number of women, who end up with their brains splattered, throats cut, or strangled to death.
Gone Tomorrow has a surprisingly retro flavour, captured in Reacher's line "roll the clock back". The narrative works its way back through history in search of answers to the problems of the present. And there is something nostalgically neolithic about Reacher himself, a nomadic hunter-gatherer who can only be stopped by an anaesthetic dart-gun originally aimed at gorillas.