In a Texas bar, Jack Reacher breaks a local police officer’s nose and finger after being provoked, so when the officer and three of his colleagues turn up the following day to arrest him, Reacher decides it’s time to move on. He manages to hitch a lift with a Californian of Mexican heritage named Carmen Greer, but she reveals to him that the only reason she picked him up is because she has a problem – her tax-evading husband Sloop is coming out of prison soon and he will beat her up. Carmen needs somebody to kill him, and she thinks Reacher’s military background may help her get rid of him. Reacher initially refuses, and even gets out of the car into the 110 degree heat, but he eventually agrees to go back to the ranch where Carmen, her husband Sloop and the rest of Sloop’s family live, to keep an eye on her. Reacher and Carmen then proceed to pick up the daughter of Carmen and Sloop: Ellie, who gets on well with Reacher.
During this time, we also see the introduction of two hired teams: the first team, named “The Watching Team” or “The Watchers”, is composed of two men and a boy and have been watching the ranch where the Greers live. This team is later killed by a second, called “The Killing Team”, who have also killed Sloop’s lawyer Al Eugene.
They arrive back at the ranch, but Reacher does not receive a warm welcome from Sloop’s mother, brother or the two ranchers that work there. Nonetheless, he begins works there. In the days leading up to Sloop’s release, Reacher helps teach Carmen how to fire a gun and also beats up both ranchers in a bar fight. Sloop comes home and takes a dislike to Reacher, and eventually gets the State Police to take Reacher away.
The State Police do take Reacher away, but the troopers are called back to the Greer Ranch – or the “Red House” – whilst Reacher is still in the car. Sloop has been shot and killed, and the authorities think it was Carmen. Whilst she is incarcerated, she confesses to the murder and denies help from Alice Amanda Aaron, the attorney Reacher hires for her.
Reacher and Alice work on trying to prove Carmen’s innocence, despite being thrown off the track by the claims of Hack Walker – Pecos County’s district attorney and Sloop’s oldest friend – that Carmen is a well-known liar, and by the kidnapping of Ellie by “The Killing Team”. Eventually, however, Reacher draws out and kills two members of “The Killing Team”. He proves it was Walker who hired the team to kill Al Eugene and Sloop after Sloop threatened to make public information about what the threesome used to do in their youth – kill illegal immigrants attempting to cross the border between America and Mexico. After tracking down the third “Killing Team” member and finding Ellie, the kidnapper gives a confession, leaving Carmen to be set free.
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