Lee Child

61 Hours

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61 Hours Summary

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The fourteenth book in the Jack Reacher series, British author Lee Child’s crime thriller novel, 61 Hours (2010), concerns a snowy small town in South Dakota that is host to a large prison and a dangerous criminal element. In a positive review in The New York Times, Janet Maslin writes, “What heats 61 Hours to the boiling point is Mr. Child’s decision to defy his own conventions.”

Born in 1960, Jack Reacher is a retired military vet who drifts from town to town investigating suspicious activity. Six-foot-five, he is described as having “hands the size of supermarket chickens.” Outside the town of Bolton, South Dakota, Jack rides on a bus carrying a senior citizen tour, “like a hitchhiker, but not quite.” In avoiding a crash with a reckless motorist, the bus spins off the icy road into a snowbank. Jack helps save and protect the elderly victims while they wait in the cold for local authorities to arrive. With the wind chill below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, the famously light-packing Jack thinks maybe he should have brought warmer clothes.

A few hours later, Jack arrives in the nearby town of Bolton, South Dakota. Snowy and remote, Bolton is home to one of the largest correctional facilities in the country. As a result, the town’s industry—along with its law enforcement officers—are beholden to the demands of the prison and its administrators. All of the motels are full because friends and families travel there to visit loved ones in the prison. Jack also learns that the leader of a biker gang has been arrested on drug charges. As the gang members settle ominously on the outskirts of town, their leader awaits trial. The prosecution’s key witness is Janet Salter. Fearing that the gang plans to murder Janet, Jack decides to help the local police in their efforts to protect her until the trial. A bookish old biddy, Janet is startlingly direct with Jack, criticizing his extremely ascetic lifestyle.

Jack learns that the mastermind behind the gang and its drug activities is a Mexican drug lord and criminal mastermind named Plato. Plato sends a merciless, nameless assassin to Bolton, instructing him to murder Janet and anyone who else who knows anything or gets in his way. Feeling a bit in over his head, Jack contacts Major Susan Turner, the military police officer who took over command of his old unit, the 110th Special Investigations Unit. In a meeting in Virginia, Susan tells Jack there is a suspicious abandoned military facility in Bolton that was supposedly converted into an orphanage.

Doubtful that the facility was ever really an orphanage, Jack returns to Bolton and searches every square inch of the compound with the help of the local police. While there, he discovers a group of pseudo-hippies squatting in the compound. On the verge of giving up, Jack stumbles upon a secret passageway to a vast underground section of the facility. Though designed as a shelter for children, it is now used by the U.S. Department of Defense to store massive amounts of methamphetamine. While the use of methamphetamines by Nazi Germany and even Adolf Hitler himself is well-documented, both the British and American armies also administered vast quantities of amphetamines, such as Benzedrine, to their soldiers. According to a PBS documentary on the subject, U.S. General and future president Dwight D. Eisenhower ordered over a half-million amphetamine tablets to North Africa for use by Allied troops.

Jack infers that Plato plans to steal the military cache of methamphetamine. To do so, he needs an inside man; Jack quickly discovers that Major Holland, the local police chief, is Plato’s accomplice. After killing Holland, Jack poses as the dead man in a phone call with Plato, luring him to Bolton. When Plato arrives in the underground facility for the meeting, Jack kills him. To avenge their boss’s death, Plato’s men flood the underground facility with airplane fuel while Jack is still inside. While escaping, Jack also discovers a cache of diamonds that the Department of Defense hid in the structure.

Worth Dying For, a novel about Jack’s exploits in rural Nebraska, follows 61 Hours in the Jack Reacher series.