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Echo Burning (Jack Reacher, Book 5) by [Lee Child]

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Echo Burning (Jack Reacher, Book 5) Kindle Edition

4.5 out of 5 stars 13,694 ratings

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Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

ONE

There were three watchers, two men and a boy. They were using telescopes, not field glasses. It was a question of distance. They were almost a mile from their target area, because of the terrain. There was no closer cover. It was low, undulating country, burned khaki by the sun, grass and rock and sandy soil alike. The nearest safe concealment was the broad dip they were in, a bone-dry gulch scraped out a million years ago by a different climate, when there had been rain and ferns and rushing rivers.

The men lay prone in the dust with the early heat on their backs, their telescopes at their eyes. The boy scuttled around on his knees, fetching water from the cooler, watching for waking rattlesnakes, logging comments in a notebook. They had arrived before first light in a dusty pick-up truck, the long way round, across the empty land from the west. They had thrown a dirty tarpaulin over the truck and pegged it down with rocks. They had eased forward to the rim of the dip and settled in, raising their telescopes as the low morning sun dawned to the east behind the red house almost a mile away. This was Friday, their fifth consecutive morning, and they were low on conversation.

'Time?' one of the men asked. His voice was nasal, the effect of keeping one eye open and the other eye shut.

The boy checked his watch.

'Six fifty,' he answered.

'Any moment now,' the man with the telescope said.

The boy opened his book and prepared to make the same notes he had made four times before.

'Kitchen light on,' the man said.

The boy wrote it down. Six fifty, kitchen light on. The kitchen faced them, looking west away from the morning sun, so it stayed dark even after dawn.

'On her own?' the boy asked.

'Same as always,' the second man said, squinting.

Maid prepares breakfast, the boy wrote. Target still in bed. The sun rose, inch by inch. It jacked itself higher into the sky and pulled the shadows shorter and shorter. The red house had a tall chimney coming out of the kitchen wing like the finger on a sundial. The shadow it made swung and shortened and the heat on the watchers' shoulders built higher. Seven o'clock in the morning, and it was already hot. By eight, it would be burning. By nine, it would be fearsome. And they were there all day, until dark, when they could slip away unseen.

'Bedroom drapes opening,' the second man said. 'She's up and about.'

The boy wrote it down. Seven oh-four, bedroom drapes open.

'Now listen,' the first man said.

They heard the well pump kick in, very faintly from almost a mile away. A quiet mechanical click, and then a steady low drone.

'She's showering,' the man said.

The boy wrote it down. Seven oh-six, target starts to shower.

The men rested their eyes. Nothing was going to happen while she was in the shower. How could it? They lowered their telescopes and blinked against the brassy sun in their eyes. The well pump clicked off after six minutes. The silence sounded louder than the faint noise had. The boy wrote: seven twelve, target out of shower. The men raised their telescopes again.

'She's dressing, I guess,' the first man said.

The boy giggled. 'Can you see her naked?'

The second man was triangulated twenty feet to the south. He had the better view of the back of the house, where her bedroom window was.

'You're disgusting,' he said. 'You know that?'

The boy wrote: seven fifteen, probably dressing. Then: Seven twenty, probably downstairs, probably eating breakfast.

'She'll go back up, clean her teeth,' he said.

The man on the left shifted on his elbows.

'For sure,' he said. 'Prissy little thing like that.'

'She's closing her drapes again,' the man on the right said.

It was standard practice in the west of Texas, in the summer, especially if your bedroom faced south, like this one did. Unless you wanted to sleep the next night in a room hotter than a pizza oven.

'Stand by,' the man said. 'A buck gets ten she goes out to the barn now.'

It was a wager that nobody took, because so far four times out of four she had done exactly that, and watchers are paid to notice patterns.

'Kitchen door's open.'

The boy wrote: seven twenty-seven, kitchen door opens.

'Here she comes.'

She came out, dressed in a blue gingham dress which reached to her knees and left her shoulders bare. Her hair was tied back behind her head. It was still damp from the shower.

'What do you call that sort of a dress?' the boy asked.

'Halter,' the man on the left said.

Seven twenty-eight, comes out, blue halter dress, goes to barn, the boy wrote.

She walked across the yard, short hesitant steps against the uneven ruts in the baked earth, maybe seventy yards. She heaved the barn door open and disappeared in the gloom inside.

The boy wrote: seven twenty-nine, target in barn.

'How hot is it?' the man on the left asked.

'Maybe a hundred degrees,' the boy said.

'There'll be a storm soon. Heat like this, there has to be.'

'Here comes her ride,' the man on the right said.

Miles to the south, there was a dust cloud on the road. A vehicle, making slow and steady progress north.

'She's coming back,' the man on the right said.

Seven thirty-two, target comes out of barn, the boy wrote.

'Maid's at the door,' the man said.

The target stopped at the kitchen door and took her lunch box from the maid. It was bright blue plastic with a cartoon picture on the side. She paused for a second. Her skin was pink and damp from the heat. She leaned down to adjust her socks and then trotted out to the gate, through the gate, to the shoulder of the road. The school bus slowed and stopped and the door opened with a sound the watchers heard clearly over the faint rattle of the idling engine. The chrome handrails flashed once in the sun. The diesel exhaust hung and drifted in the hot still air. The target heaved her lunch box onto the step and grasped the bright rails and clambered up after it. The door closed again and the watchers saw her corn-coloured head bobbing along level with the base of the windows. Then the engine noise deepened and the gears caught and the bus moved away with a new cone of dust kicking up behind it.

Seven thirty-six, target on bus to school, the boy wrote.

The road north was dead straight and he turned his head and watched the bus all the way until the heat on the horizon broke it up into a shimmering yellow mirage. Then he closed his notebook and secured it with a rubber band. Back at the red house, the maid stepped inside and closed the kitchen door. Nearly a mile away, the watchers lowered their telescopes and turned their collars up for protection from the sun.

Seven thirty-seven, Friday morning.

Seven thirty-eight.

Seven thirty-nine, more than three hundred miles to the north and east, Jack Reacher climbed out of his motel-room window. One minute earlier, he had been in the bathroom, brushing his teeth. One minute before that, he had opened the door of his room to check the morning temperature. He had left it open, and the closet just inside the entrance passageway was faced with mirrored glass, and there was a shaving mirror in the bathroom on a cantilevered arm, and by a freak of optical chance he caught sight of four men getting out of a car and walking toward the motel office. Pure luck, but a guy as vigilant as Jack Reacher gets lucky more times than the average.

The car was a police cruiser. It had a shield on the door, and because of the bright sunlight and the double reflection he could read it clearly. At the top it said City Police, and then there was a fancy medallion in the middle with Lubbock, Texas written underneath. All four men who got out were in uniform. They had bulky belts with guns and radios and nightsticks and handcuffs. Three of the men he had never seen before, but the fourth guy was familiar. The fourth guy was a tall heavyweight with a gelled blond brush-cut above a meaty red face. This morning the meaty red face was partially obscured by a glinting aluminium splint carefully taped over a shattered nose. His right hand was similarly bound up with a splint and bandages protecting a broken forefinger.

The guy had neither injury the night before. And Reacher had no idea the guy was a cop. He just looked like some idiot in a bar. Reacher had gone there because he'd heard the music was good, but it wasn't, so he had backed away from the band and ended up on a bar stool watching ESPN on a muted television fixed high on a wall. The place was crowded and noisy and he was wedged in a space with a woman on his right and the heavyweight guy with the brush-cut on his left. He got bored with the sports and turned round to watch the room. As he turned, he saw how the guy was eating.

The guy was wearing a white tank-top shirt and he was eating chicken wings. The wings were greasy and the guy was a slob. He was dripping chicken fat off his chin and off his fingers onto his shirt. There was a dark teardrop shape right between his pecs. It was growing and spreading into an impressive stain. But the best bar-room etiquette doesn't let you linger on such a sight, and the guy caught Reacher staring.

'Who you looking at?' he said.

It was said low and aggressively, but Reacher ignored it.

'Who you looking at?' the guy said again.

Reacher's experience was, they say it once, maybe nothing's going to happen. But they say it twice, then trouble's on the way. Fundamental problem is, they take a lack of response as evidence that you're worried. That they're winning. But then, they won't let you answer, anyway.

'You looking at me?' the guy said.

'No,' Reacher answered.

'Don't you be looking at me, boy,' the guy said.

The way he said boy made Reacher think he was maybe a foreman in a lumber mill or a cotton operation. Whatever muscle work was done around Lubbock. Some kind of a traditional trade passed down through the generations. Certainly the word cop never came to his mind. But then he was relatively new to Texas.

'Don't you look at me,' the guy said.

Reacher turned his head and looked at him. Not really to antagonize the guy. Just to size him up. Life is endlessly capable of surprises, so he knew one day he would come face to face with his physical equal. With somebody who might worry him. But he looked and saw this wasn't the day. So he just smiled and looked away again.

Then the guy jabbed him with his finger.

'I told you not to look at me,' he said, and jabbed.

It was a meaty forefinger and it was covered in grease. It left a definite mark on Reacher's shirt.

'Don't do that,' Reacher said.

The guy jabbed again.

'Or what?' he said. 'You want to make something out of it?'

Reacher looked down. Now there were two marks. The guy jabbed again. Three jabs, three marks. Reacher clamped his teeth. What were three greasy marks on a shirt? He started a slow count to ten. Then the guy jabbed again, before he even reached eight.

'You deaf?' Reacher said. 'I told you not to do that.'

'You want to do something about it?'

'No,' Reacher said. 'I really don't. I just want you to stop doing it, is all.'

The guy smiled. 'Then you're a yellow-bellied piece of shit.'

'Whatever,' Reacher said. 'Just keep your hands off me.'

'Or what? What you going to do?'

Reacher restarted his count. Eight, nine.

'You want to take this outside?' the guy asked.

Ten.

'Touch me again and you'll find out,' Reacher said. 'I warned you four times.'

The guy paused a second. Then, of course, he went for it again. Reacher caught the finger on the way in and snapped it at the first knuckle. Just folded it upward like he was turning a door handle. Then because he was irritated he leaned forward and headbutted the guy full in the face. It was a smooth move, well delivered, but it was backed off to maybe a half of what it might have been. No need to put a guy in a coma, over four grease marks on a shirt. He moved a pace to give the man room to fall, and backed into the woman on his right.

'Excuse me, ma'am,' he said.

The woman nodded vaguely, disoriented by the noise, concentrating on her drink, unaware of what was happening. The big guy thumped silently on the floorboards and Reacher used the sole of his shoe to roll him half onto his front. Then he nudged him under the chin with his toe to pull his head back and straighten his airway. The recovery position, paramedics call it. Stops you choking while you're out.

Then he paid for his drinks and walked back to his motel, and didn't give the guy another thought until he was at the bathroom mirror and saw him out and about in a cop's uniform. Then he thought hard, and as fast as he could.

He spent the first second calculating reflected angles and figuring if I can see him, does that mean he can see me? The answer was yes, of course he can. If he was looking the right way, which he wasn't yet. He spent the next second mad at himself. He should have picked up the signs. They had been there. Who else would be poking at a guy built like him, except somebody with some kind of protected status? Some kind of imagined invulnerability? He should have picked up on it.

So what to do? The guy was a cop on his own turf. And Reacher was an easily recognizable target. Apart from anything else he still had the four grease spots on his shirt, and a brand new bruise on his forehead. There were probably forensics people who could match its shape to the bones in the guy's nose.

--This text refers to an alternate kindle_edition edition.

Book Description

Another heartstopping page turner from the number one bestseller, starring Jack Reacher. --This text refers to the paperback edition.

Product details

  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B0031RS4TI
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Transworld Digital; 1st edition (22 September 2008)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • File size ‏ : ‎ 4827 KB
  • Text-to-Speech ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • Screen Reader ‏ : ‎ Supported
  • Enhanced typesetting ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • X-Ray ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • Word Wise ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • Print length ‏ : ‎ 584 pages
  • Customer Reviews:
    4.5 out of 5 stars 13,694 ratings

About the author

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Lee Child is one of the world’s leading thriller writers. He was born in Coventry, raised in Birmingham, and now lives in New York. It is said one of his novels featuring his hero Jack Reacher is sold somewhere in the world every nine seconds. His books consistently achieve the number-one slot on bestseller lists around the world and have sold over one hundred million copies. Two blockbusting Jack Reacher movies have been made so far. He is the recipient of many awards, most recently Author of the Year at the 2019 British Book Awards. He was appointed CBE in the 2019 Queen's Birthday Honours.

Photography © Sigrid Estrada

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