Reacher and an assistant named Lieutenant Summer travel to inform Mrs. Kramer of her husband’s death. However, when they arrive, it turns out the house has been broken into and Mrs. Kramer has been murdered with a crowbar.
Reacher goes to a bar across the street from the motel to find out who the hooker was, and creates some trouble when he gets into a fight with the owner, shattering his knee. Afterwards, the motel receptionist informs Reacher that he heard a military vehicle leaving after Kramer’s death, and Reacher concludes that the woman Kramer was with is a female officer. The book introduces General Vassell and Colonel Coomer, and later their errand boy, Major Marshall. It becomes clear that they are hiding something, related to an agenda for a meeting that was in Kramer’s briefcase.
Two soldiers named Carbone and Brubaker are murdered soon afterward. It turns out that Carbone filed a complaint against Reacher, his first in a sixteen-year career, for assaulting the bar owner. This puts Reacher under a cloud of suspicion.
Reacher’s mother, who had been extremely sick with cancer, dies. Reacher takes a slight break from the investigation to mourn his mother, along with his older brother, Joe.
Reacher, in a talk with the Chief of Staff, finds out that with the collapse of Soviet communism that the military at large is worried about its inevitable downsizing, and in particular the different branches are having a power struggle.
Reacher realizes that Vassell, Coomer, and Marshall killed Carbone, by sneaking Marshall into the base in the car trunk. This is proven when investigation of the car finds Marshall’s fingerprints as well as large quantities of blood in the trunk.
Reacher arrests Vassell and Coomer for conspiracy to commit homicide. He makes the mistake of traveling alone to a disused range target to arrest Marshall. Marshall is hiding out in a bunker, also armed. A firefight ensues, during which Marshall calls his tank squadron, practicing nearby, to fire rounds on their position. Reacher’s Humvee is destroyed and, realizing that time is short, sneaks into the bunker and wounds Marshall. Using Marshall’s Humvee, he narrowly escapes and arrests Marshall.
Reacher finds the agenda, and it turns out that it was a plan to ensure that Armored Branch, the military the conspirators worked for, avoided being reduced. The agenda was a plan to assassinate eighteen prominent individuals in the army, one already killed. In the end, it is said that Vassell, Coomer, and Marshall plead guilty as charged in exchange for life imprisonment, avoiding the death penalty which was threatened.
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