Here's the first sentence of the 18th Jack Reacher thriller: "Eventually they put Reacher in a car and drove him to a motel a mile away, where the night clerk gave him a room, which had all the features Reacher expected, because he had seen such rooms a thousand times before." Not a flashy opening sentence, but a meticulous and compelling one -- like Reacher himself.
Never Go Back (Dell, 607 pages, $12), by New York's Lee Child, finds Reacher, a former military investigator, in Virginia, where he discovers the commander of his old unit has been accused of taking a bribe, and Reacher himself has been accused of murder.
Like the earlier books in the series, this one's a perfect thriller: it's got suspense, action, and a lead character who's handy with his fists but prefers to use his razor-sharp intellect to extricate himself from tricky situations. Another astonishingly good entry novel from a writer who outshines most (if not all) of his competitors.
Stoner pals Chase Daniels and Typewriter John figure they have to be imagining the zombie apocalypse. Seriously, this can't really be happening, Oh, but it is: the world really is being taken over by the lurching dead. But guess what? If you're high, the zombie virus, or whatever it is, can't get you -- so Chase and Typewriter John figure they're safe as long as they can get enough drugs.
Fiend (Broadway Books, 293 pages, $17), by Denver's Peter Stenson, is a surprisingly effective mash-up of stoner comedy and horror story. It's got gore and terror in all the right places, but also plenty of laughs, and even a real emotional core, as Chase seizes on the zombie apocalypse as a way to make some monumental changes to his own life -- before, you know, it's too late. Great fun.
In One Summer: America 1927 (Anchor Canada, 509 pages, $23), Bill Bryson takes us through a particularly invigorating summer in the U.S.: Babe Ruth was knocking homers out of the park with alarming regularity; Al Capone was coming into his glory; The Jazz Singer, the first "talkie," was being filmed; Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic; Calvin Coolidge unexpectedly became president.
Bryson, born in Iowa but living in England, is one of the most engaging writers you're ever likely to read. Whether he's writing travelogue (Neither Here nor There) or histories of language (Made in America) and science (A Short History of Nearly Everything), he uses words beautifully, elegantly, to tell wonderful stories. His non-fiction is livelier and more adventurous than many writers' fiction -- he's that good. If you've never read him, this is an excellent place to start.
Halifax, Nova Scotia, freelancer David Pitt's column appears the first weekend of every month.