Someone raped and killed a local girl in a small Mississippi town with a big US Army base, and Jack Reacher has been sent in to quietly watch over the investigation and make sure the Army doesn't get a black eye. He arrives in Carter Crossing and almost immediately gets into a confrontation with some locals -- not a good sign.
Reacher checks in with the officers at the base, then gets in touch with the local sheriff, Elizabeth Devereaux, even though his commanding officer told him not to. Devereaux has a reputation because she dated a soldier and it ended badly. She and Reacher begin investigating the killing, though he knows information that he can't tell her, about secret missions by Army Rangers trained at the base.
Reacher and Devereaux find some evidence that was missed in the initial investigation into the girl's death. They also discover the killing is similar to two others from a few years back, cold cases, that were barely investigated because the victims were black. Now they realize they've got a serial killer to deal with.
Devereaux comes on to Reacher, and the two have sex. Later he begins to question whether she could be a suspect in the killing herself. There was a hunting apparatus in her back yard, similar to one used in the murder, and she admits to him that she removed dirt from her yard because it was full of blood -- not from the victim, but from animals she'd killed while hunting.
Their investigation points to the Army base, which leaves Reacher conflicted. He returns to the Pentagon to discuss it with his colonel, who attacks him. Reacher kills him in self-defense, then covers up the crime. He returns to Carter Crossing, intent on finding the girls' killer.
Reacher waits until night and slips into a town car carrying Capt. Reed Riley, the commander of one of the secret Army Ranger units, and his father, Sen. Carlton Riley, chairman of the powerful Armed Services Committee. He holds a gun on them and tells them that he's figured it all out: that the younger Riley has a problem with raping and killing women, and that his father has been using his influence to get the crimes pinned on others.
He forces Reed Riley to drive the car up onto the train tracks, then shoots them both. Devereaux helps Reacher escape the crime scene. A few minutes later, a train speeds past, obliterating the car and destroying the evidence that they had been shot. The men are later reported to have died in an accident.
After this affair, Reacher retires from the Army and makes arrangements for his pension to be deposited in a bank account that he can access from anywhere. Concerned that the Army may seek him out for payback, he resolves to wander the country, living without a home or any real possessions. He says good-bye to Devereaux and sets out.
Best part of story, including ending:
This novel has a kernel of a really good police procedural in it somewhere, but the descriptions of how certain mundane things happen, like walking down an alley to go behind another building, are too detailed, and in general the book is far too long for the story.
Best scene in story:
Any time Reacher fights someone else, it's over very quickly. He's bigger and better trained than most people who come at him. When the rednecks finally pick a fight with him, he demolishes them with brutal efficiency and walks away almost entirely unscathed.
Opinion about the main character:
You want to like Jack Reacher, since he's fighting for justice in the face of official opposition. But when he straight-up murders the people responsible for the killings, instead of turning them over to civilian authorities and the regular justice system, that's when he goes too far to be likeable.