Past Tense (Jack Reacher Series #23)

Past Tense (Jack Reacher Series #23)

by Lee Child

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#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • Family secrets come back to haunt Jack Reacher in this electrifying thriller from “a superb craftsman of suspense” (Entertainment Weekly).

Jack Reacher hits the pavement and sticks out his thumb. He plans to follow the sun on an epic trip across America, from Maine to California. He doesn’t get far. On a country road deep in the New England woods, he sees a sign to a place he has never been: the town where his father was born. He thinks, What’s one extra day? He takes the detour.

At the same moment, in the same isolated area, a car breaks down. Two young Canadians had been on their way to New York City to sell a treasure. Now they’re stranded at a lonely motel in the middle of nowhere. The owners seem almost too friendly. It’s a strange place, but it’s all there is.

The next morning, in the city clerk’s office, Reacher asks about the old family home. He’s told no one named Reacher ever lived in town. He’s always known his father left and never returned, but now Reacher wonders, Was he ever there in the first place?

As Reacher explores his father’s life, and as the Canadians face lethal dangers, strands of different stories begin to merge. Then Reacher makes a shocking discovery: The present can be tough, but the past can be tense . . . and deadly.

Praise for Past Tense

“Child is one writer who should never be taken for granted.”The New York Times Book Review

“[Lee Child] shows no signs of slowing down. . . . Reacher is a man for whom the phrase moral compass was invented: His code determines his direction. . . . You need Jack Reacher.”The Atlantic

“Superb . . . Child neatly interweaves multiple narratives, ratchets up the suspense (the reveal of the motel plot is delicious), and delivers a powerful, satisfying denouement. Fans will enjoy learning more of this enduring character’s roots, and Child’s spare prose continues to set a very high bar.”Publishers Weekly (boxed and starred review)

“Another first-class entry in a series that continues to set the gold standard for aspiring thriller authors.”Booklist (starred review)

“With his usual flair for succinctness and eye for detail, Child creates another rollicking Reacher road trip that will please fans and newcomers alike.”Library Journal (starred review)

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780399593529
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 11/05/2018
Series: Jack Reacher Series
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 416
Sales rank: 398
File size: 4 MB

About the Author

Lee Child is the author of twenty-three New York Times bestselling Jack Reacher thrillers, with fourteen having reached the #1 position, and the #1 bestselling complete Jack Reacher story collection, No Middle Name. All his novels have been optioned for major motion pictures—including Jack Reacher (based on One Shot) and Jack Reacher: Never Go Back. Foreign rights in the Reacher series have sold in one hundred territories. A native of England and a former television director, Lee Child lives in New York City.


Birmingham, England

Date of Birth:


Place of Birth:

Coventry, England


Sheffield University

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

Jack Reacher caught the last of the summer sun in a small town on the coast of Maine, and then, like the birds in the sky above him, he began his long migration south. But not, he thought, straight down the coast. Not like the orioles and the buntings and the phoebes and the warblers and the ruby-­throated hummingbirds. Instead he decided on a diagonal route, south and west, from the top right-­hand corner of the country to the bottom left, maybe through Syracuse, and Cincinnati, and St. Louis, and Oklahoma City, and Albuquerque, and onward all the way to San Diego. Which for an army guy like Reacher was a little too full of Navy people, but which was otherwise a fine spot to start the winter.

It would be an epic road trip, and one he hadn’t made in years.

He was looking forward to it.

He didn’t get far.

He walked inland a mile or so and came to a county road and stuck out his thumb. He was a tall man, more than six feet five in his shoes, heavily built, all bone and muscle, not particularly good looking, never very well dressed, usually a little unkempt. Not an overwhelmingly appealing proposition. As always most drivers slowed and took a look and then kept on going. The first car prepared to take a chance on him came along after forty minutes. It was a year-­old Subaru wagon, driven by a lean middle-­aged guy in pleated chino pants and a crisp khaki shirt. Dressed by his wife, Reacher thought. The guy had a wedding ring. But under the fine fabrics was a workingman’s body. A thick neck and large red knuckles. The slightly surprised and somewhat reluctant boss of something, Reacher thought. The kind of guy who starts out digging post holes and ends up owning a fencing company.

Which turned out to be a good guess. Initial conversation established the guy had started out with nothing to his name but his daddy’s old framing hammer, and had ended up owning a construction company, responsible for forty working people, and the hopes and dreams of a whole bunch of clients. He finished his story with a little facial shrug, part Yankee modesty, part genuine perplexity. As in, how did that happen? Attention to detail, Reacher thought. This was a very organized guy, full of notions and nostrums and maxims and cast-­iron beliefs, one of which was that at the end of summer it was better to stay away from both Route One and I-­95, and in fact to get out of Maine altogether as fast as possible, which meant soon and sideways, on Route Two, straight west into New Hampshire. To a place just south of Berlin, where the guy knew a bunch of back roads that would get them down to Boston faster than any other way. Which was where the guy was going, for a meeting about marble countertops. Reacher was happy. Nothing wrong with Boston as a starting point. Nothing at all. From there it was a straight shot to Syracuse. After which Cincinnati was easy, via Rochester and Buffalo and Cleveland. Maybe even via Akron, Ohio. Reacher had been in worse places. Mostly in the service.

They didn’t get to Boston.

The guy got a call on his cell, after fifty-­some minutes heading south on the aforementioned New Hampshire back roads. Which were exactly as advertised. Reacher had to admit the guy’s plan was solid. There was no traffic at all. No jams, no delays. They were bowling along, doing sixty miles an hour, dead easy. Until the phone rang. It was hooked up to the car radio, and a name came up on the navigation screen, with a thumbnail photograph as a visual aid, in this case of a red-­faced man wearing a hard hat and carrying a clipboard. Some kind of a foreman on a job site. The guy at the wheel touched a button and phone hiss filled the car, from all the speakers, like surround sound.

The guy at the wheel spoke to the windshield pillar and said, “This better be good news.”

It wasn’t. It was something to do with an inspector from a municipal buildings department, and a metal flue liner above a fireplace in an entrance lobby, which was properly insulated, exactly up to code, except that couldn’t be proved visually without tearing down the stonework, which was by that point already three stories high, nearly done, with the masons booked on a new job starting the next week, or alternatively without ripping out the custom walnut millwork in the dining room on the other side of the chimney, or the millwork in the closet above, which was rosewood and even more complicated, but the inspector was being a hardass about it and needed to see for himself.

The guy at the wheel glanced at Reacher and said, “Which inspector is it?”

The guy on the phone said, “The new one.”

“Does he know he gets a turkey at Thanksgiving?”

“I told him we’re all on the same side here.”

The guy at the wheel glanced at Reacher again, as if seeking permission, or offering an apology, or both, and then he faced front again and said, “Did you offer him money?”

“Five hundred. He wouldn’t take it.”

Then the cell signal ran out. The sound went garbled, like a robot drowning in a swimming pool, and then it went dead. The screen said it was searching.

The car rolled on.

Reacher said, “Why would a person want a fireplace in an entrance lobby?”

The guy at the wheel said, “It’s welcoming.”

“I think historically it was designed to repel. It was defensive. Like the campfire burning in the mouth of the cave. It was intended to keep predators at bay.”

“I have to go back,” the guy said. “I’m sorry.”

He slowed the car and pulled over on the gravel. All alone, on the back roads. No other traffic. The screen said it was still searching for a signal.

“I’m going to have to let you out here,” the guy said. “Is that OK?”

“No problem,” Reacher said. “You got me part of the way. For which I thank you very much.”

“You’re welcome.”

“Whose is the rosewood closet?”


“Cut a big hole in it and show the inspector. Then give the client five commonsense reasons why he should install a wall safe. Because this is a guy who wants a wall safe. Maybe he doesn’t know it yet, but a guy who wants a fireplace in his entrance lobby wants a wall safe in his bedroom closet. That’s for damn sure. Human nature. You’ll make a profit. You can charge him for the time it takes to cut the hole.”

“Are you in this business, too?”

“I was a military cop.”

The guy said, “Huh.”

Reacher opened the door and climbed out, and closed the door again behind him, and walked far enough away to give the guy space to swing the Subaru around, gravel shoulder to gravel shoulder, across the whole width of the road, and then to take off back the way he had come. All of which the guy did, with a brief gesture Reacher took to be a rueful good-­luck wave. Then he got smaller and smaller in the distance, and Reacher turned back and continued walking, south, the way he was headed. Wherever possible he liked to maintain forward momentum. The road he was on was a two-­lane, wide enough, well maintained, curved here and there, a little up and down. But no kind of a problem for a modern car. The Subaru had been doing sixty. Yet there was no traffic. None at all. Nothing coming, either way. Total silence. Just a sigh of wind in the trees, and the faint buzz of heat coming up off the blacktop.

Reacher walked on.

Two miles later the road he was on curved gently left, and a new road of equal size and appearance split off to the right. Not exactly a turn. More like an equal choice. A classic Y-­shaped junction. Twitch the wheel left, or twitch the wheel right. Your call. Both options ran out of sight through trees so mighty in places they made a tunnel.

There was a road sign.

A tilted arrow to the left was labeled Portsmouth, and a tilted arrow to the right was labeled Laconia. But the right-­hand option was written in smaller writing, and it had a smaller arrow, as if Laconia was less important than Portsmouth. A mere byway, despite its road being the same size.

Laconia, New Hampshire.

A name Reacher knew. He had seen it on all kinds of historic family paperwork, and he had heard it mentioned from time to time. It was his late father’s place of birth, and where he was raised, until he escaped at age seventeen to join the Marines. Such was the vague family legend. Escaped from what had not been specified. But he never went back. Not once. Reacher himself had been born more than fifteen years later, by which time Laconia was a dead detail of the long-­ago past, as remote as the Dakota Territory, where it was said some earlier ancestor had lived and worked. No one in the family ever went to either place. No visits. The grandparents died young and were rarely mentioned. There were apparently no aunts or uncles or cousins or any other kind of distant relatives. Which was statistically unlikely, and suggested a rift of some kind. But no one other than his father had any real information, and no one ever made any real attempt to get any from him. Certain things were not discussed in Marine families. Much later as a captain in the army Reacher’s brother Joe was posted north and said something about maybe trying to find the old family homestead, but nothing ever came of it. Probably Reacher himself had said the same kind of thing, from time to time. He had never been there either.

Left or right. His call.

Portsmouth was better. It had highways and traffic and buses. It was a straight shot to Boston. San Diego beckoned. The Northeast was about to get cold.

But what was one extra day?

He stepped right, and chose the fork in the road that led to Laconia.

At that same late-­afternoon moment, nearly thirty miles away, heading south on a different back road, was a worn-­out Honda Civic, driven by a twenty-­five-­year-­old man named Shorty Fleck. Next to him in the passenger seat was a twenty-­five-­year-­old woman named Patty Sundstrom. They were boyfriend and girlfriend, both born and raised in Saint Leonard, which was a small faraway town in New Brunswick, Canada. Not much happened there. The biggest news in living memory was ten years previously, when a truck carrying twelve million bees overturned on a curve. The local paper reported with pride that the accident was the first of its kind in New Brunswick. Patty worked in a sawmill. She was the granddaughter of a guy from Minnesota who had slipped north half a century earlier, to beat the draft for Vietnam. Shorty was a potato farmer. His family had been in Canada forever. And he wasn’t particularly short. Maybe he had been once, as a kid. But now he figured he was what any eyewitness would call an average-­looking guy.

They were trying to make it non-­stop from Saint Leonard to New York City. Which by any standard was a hardcore drive. But they saw a big advantage in doing it. They had something to sell in the city, and saving a night in a hotel would maximize their profit. They had planned out their route, looping west to avoid the summer people heading home from the beaches, using back roads, Patty’s blunt finger on a map, her gaze ranging ahead for turns and signs. They had timed it out on paper, and figured it was a feasible course of action.

Except they had gotten a later start than they would have liked, due a little bit to general disorganization, but mostly due to the Honda’s aging battery not liking the newly crisp autumnal temperatures blowing in from the direction of Prince Edward Island. The delay put them in a long line at the U.S. border, and then the Honda started over­heating, and needed nursing along below fifty miles an hour for an extended spell.

They were tired.

And hungry, and thirsty, and in need of the bathroom, and late, and behind schedule. And frustrated. The Honda was overheating again. The needle was kissing the red. There was a grinding noise under the hood. Maybe the oil was low. No way of telling. All the dashboard lights had been on continuously for the last two and a half years.

Shorty asked, “What’s up ahead?”

Patty said, “Nothing.”

Her fingertip was on a wandering red line, which was labeled with a three-­digit number, and which was shown running north to south through a jagged shape shaded pale green. A forested area. Which matched what was out the window. The trees crowded in, still and dark, laden down with heavy end-­of-­summer leaves. The map showed tiny red spider-­web lines here and there, like the veins in an old lady’s leg, which were presumably all tracks to somewhere, but nowhere big. Nowhere likely to have a mechanic or a lube shop or radiator water. The best bet was about thirty minutes ahead, some ways east of south, a town with its name printed not too small and semi-­bold, which meant it had to have at least a gas station. It was called Laconia.

Customer Reviews

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Past Tense (Jack Reacher Series #23) 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 185 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I can't believe Lee wrote this. Totally predictable, extremely slow to develop and unbelievably stupid characters, situations, and dialogue. I resent them pawning this off on his readers under Mr Childs name, and I really resent the $15 bucks it cost me to find this out. Crappy have been warned.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Worst Reacher novel yet. Not even worth reading. Poor plot, no interesting new characters, and the hook about Reacher's past is a bogus one. Really disappointed
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I've read every Reacher book twice except this one. I guess Lee is running out of stories. Leaving 10 dead bodies at the crime scene when the police knew he was over there would guarantee a nationwide search despite the fact he did nothing wrong. He also has only worked down in Key West that I can recall but yet he always has money. He did inherit Leon's house but no mention of that since many moons ago. Go back to his MP days or have more believable plots. Have him solve big crimes for the NYP/FBI/Homeland Security or something. Add some regular characters and maybea girlfriend. It used to be my favorite series butnow it reminds me of Clive Cussler. I'll still buy the new books but this series needs a makeover!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great fast paced cant put it down book. Really enjoyed the plot lines, wondered how they would intersect. Can't wait for his next book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Another great read. I've enjoyed every one of Lee's books and looking forward to the next!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Not as good as the other Jack Reacher Books Looks like Child ran out of Steam in 2018
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Based on everyone 's 5 star ratings, I found this new book so boring! The writer went off on every little tangent of the character's life. I found myself skimming through pages. Then that reference, character or place was never mentioned again. I have read every one of his books and these last four have been awful. I wonder whose really writing these books?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A great read. Many surprises. One of the best in the Jack Reacher series.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
So here is the good news and bad news. A credit to the writer in the character I was 240 pages into the book and was shocked how much I had already read. At the same time I was surprised That I was that far into the book in really nothing worthwhile had occurred. In the end the plot was resolved it was somewhat pre determined and the character resolve some of his family issues but frankly I was not motivated to care too much either way.
Brian_Baker More than 1 year ago
There's about 50 pages of actual story hidden in the 400 pages of this awful book. What little story there is moves at a glacial pace. Paragraph after endless paragraph of description of, and pontification about, trivial matters that no one in their right mind would care about, and only serve to pad the page count. I have to wonder if Child was getting paid by the word, or the weight of the book. The people he's "saving" are stupid beyond belief, and bring their problems upon themselves, making them hard to sympathize with. The danger they're in is a variation of a plot device he already used in a previous book (which I won't name so this isn't a spoiler). Not even original! Reacher's research into his father's past has all the dramatic flair of watching paint dry. This book is the very epitome of B-O-R-I-N-G. Save your money. And your time!
wvteddy More than 1 year ago
The last few Jack Reacher books have seemed a little flat but Lee Child hit it out of the park with this latest installment . Book #23 finds Reacher heading from Maine to San Diego but he doesn’t make it far. His hitchhiking brings him to a classic Y intersection. The left road leads to Portsmouth, NH and the right to a town Reacher knows. Laconia, NH, is the town his father Stan was from but Reacher had never been there nor met any of his relatives, so he heads that way. Of course, Jack Reacher being who he is, we know there will be trouble and bloodshed soon in Laconia, and here Lee Child does not disappoint. This book gives us a look into Reacher’s history, and Reacher, the enigmatic loner, shows a bit more of a human side than usual with his interest in his past and concern for others. It kept me wondering how the two parts of the book were related and how it would all be resolved. I liked seeing the humanity in Reacher. I liked seeing how the “back of his mind” and the front worked together to defeat the bad guys. There were several other surprisingly strong characters in this book, especially Patty and Shorty who developed as the story went along and surprised me. I really enjoyed this book and would like to thank Netgalley and the publisher for allowing me to read and review it. Mr. Child, I look forward to the next installment.
jdowell More than 1 year ago
More edge-of-your seat action from Lee Child. Jack Reacher once again finds himself in the middle of a strange situation. True to form, Reacher once again manages to find trouble when he sets out to help others. A young couple, having car issues, finds themselves stranded at a rather strange motel in the middle of nowhere and there are some suspicious things happening. In the meantime Jack Reacher is walking/hitch-hiking his way across the country from Maine to California when he becomes side-tracked in Laconia, New Hampshire where his father was born. Reacher decides to spend some time researching his roots. During his stay his antenna perks up and he starts tracking some suspicious occurrences. This is a gripping, fast-paced book and if you like Jack Reacher you will certainly enjoy the story. You can, of course, read it as a stand-alone even if you haven't read any others in the series. It will be quite easy to follow. The writing is direct without a lot of unnecessary embellishment - kind of rugged like the character (and this is not a criticism; it really enhances the story). I look forward to another Jack Reacher adventure soon. Thanks to Lee Child and Random House Publishing Group - Ballantine through Netgalley for an advance copy.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
According to the Product Review, the book has 400 pages... Strangely, When I PURCHASED the book, the page count drops to 337. IS this some sort of "Bait and Switch" scheme to entice readers to buy the book? My eyesight is fine. I AM SURE of what I read. It's no big deal? Right? Wrong! Approximately 70 PAGES ~~POOF~~suddenly disappear? I don't think so. I don't believe it was a glitch. I don't believe Sam twitched her nose and these pages vanish into the ether. Nevertheless, I am certain Child's latest novel will be an excellent read. I feel this is an issue potential buyers should be aware of. JustJess . ?. The end. JustJess. FFT. Honolulu, Hawaii.
Anonymous 23 hours ago
The basic plot of this book is just too simply unbelievable. The side plot of searching for his father was at least plausible. the young couple in the main plot had no, and I mean no, common sense.
Anonymous 25 days ago
very poor very disappointed do better!!
Anonymous 3 months ago
I could not put this book down. Very mind blowing!
Anonymous 7 months ago
Anonymous 7 months ago
as always excellent storyline
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is so bad there aren't enough words for JUNK. Lee needs to bring back Reacher's first love and build about a dozen books around their life and tuff guy Reacher...
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Another great one...
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Some are better than others This was pretty good!!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The start is a bit slow in bringing storyline together, but the mystery is good.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago