by Lee Child
You either love Lee Child’s Jack Reacher or you hate him. Reacher’s character reacts the same in every book even as the surrounding stories vary like kaleidoscope patterns.
Predictable, yes. But, there are moments in some when I’m reminded of sitting in a dark movie theater as a teenager watching Clint Eastwood in spaghetti westerns — or later Akira Kurosawa’s mythical ronin (samurai warriors without a sponsoring lord).
Part of Jack Reacher’s appeal is that he is a modern day archetype — made redundant by world affairs beyond his control, cast adrift from the only home and family he ever knew (the military), a misfit who doesn’t care to fit in and a wanderer who seeks nothing, unhampered by possessions or social attachments.
The first Jack Reacher book, Killing Floor, sets the stage perfectly: a stranger gets off the Greyhound in Georgia, walks 14 miles along a country road, finds a diner and is arrested before he can finish his eggs. The local police chief identifies him as having been near the site of brutal series of murders; the chief of detectives, a black retired veteran of the Boston police department, has evidence he was nowhere near the town. So it begins.
But The Affair, written 14 years later, explains why Reacher, a major with the U.S. Army military police for 13 years and the son of a career Marine, is cut loose. Yes, there was glasnost and the fall of the Berlin War. The Cold War warmed up and the geopolitical landscape changed.
Maj. Reacher is a nightmare for many commanding officers. He obeys orders, but never quite like they were intended. He’s suspicious and analytical. If he doesn’t like how the Army is solving its problems, he’ll find his own way to get justice.
It’s 1997. Two companies of the elite Rangers are stationed near Carter Crossing, Mississippi, when a young woman is found dead. The first review of the evidence points toward a soldier, a politically sensitive situation given some of the duties assigned to the Ranger companies.
Reacher is sent undercover to the town to monitor the local sheriff, Elizabeth Deveraux, a former Marine MP who returned home and won election to the post her father held for years. One of Reacher’s colleagues is sent to the base itself to investigate.
Reacher learns that the victim isn’t the first; two other women were murdered and those crimes remain unsolved. While he explores, two other murders occur. To say more would be to spoil the suspense. Deveraux is a strong match for Reacher. While the forces around him work on a cover-up, Reacher works on a just solution.
By the end of the book, Reacher finds himself “thirty-six years old, a citizen of a country I had barely seen, and there were places to go, and there things to do. There were cities and there was countryside. There were mountains, and there were valleys. There were rivers. There were museums, and music, and motels, and clubs, and diners, and bars, and buses. There were battlefields and birthplaces, and legends, and roads. There was company if I wanted it, and there was solitude if I didn’t.
“I picked a road at random, and I put one foot on the curb and one in the traffic lane, and I stuck out my thumb.”
In addition to The Affair, the series includes a second prequel, The Enemy. The books are not chronologically sequential, but it doesn’t particularly matter. Some books are written in first person and some in third. Some are more grandiosely incredible than others.
Child’s brusque brevity and Reacher’s confidence, knowledge of human nature and ability to bring justice to the big, the bad and the ugly make for a reliably good read.
Here is a list of the books in the Jack Reacher series.
- Killing Floor (1997)
- Die Trying (1998)
- Tripwire (1999)
- Running Blind (The Visitor in Britain) (2000)
- Echo Burning (2001)
- Without Fail (2002)
- Persuader (2003)
- The Enemy (2004), which is set eight years before Reacher leaves the military and includes his French mother and his brother, who works for the U.S. Treasury Department.
- One Shot (2005) This book was adapted into the movie “Jack Reacher” starring Thom Cruise in 2012.
- The Hard Way (2006)
- Bad Luck and Trouble (2007)
- Nothing to Lose (2008)
- Gone Tomorrow (2009)
- Hours (2010)
- Worth Dying For (2010)
- A Wanted Man (2012)
- Never Go Back (2013)
- Personal (2014)
- Make Me (2015)
- Night School (2016)
- The Midnight Line ( due in 2017)
The Author: Lee Child (1954 – )
Lee Child is the pen name of Jim Grant. Grant’s younger brother Andrew is also a writer of thrillers. (Andrew Grant writes a series a thriller series featuring David Trevellyan, a royal Naval Intelligence officer: Even, Die Twice and More Harm than Good.)
He studied law at the University of Sheffield never intending on becoming a lawyer. As a student, he worked backstage in a theater and went to work in commercial television (Granada Television) after he graduated in 1977.
During his television career, he was involved with shows including “Brideshead Revisited,” “The Jewel in the Crown,” “Prime Suspect” and “Cracker.” In 1995, he was laid off in a corporate restructuring and decided to start writing novels. His resentment about being cast aside after years of good, quality service comes through in his primary character, Jack Reacher. His first book, Killing Floor, was published in 1997. He moved to the United States in 1998.
He selected his pen name in part because it placed him on bookstore shelves between crime writing giants Raymond Chandler and Agatha Christie. He selected the name Reacher for his main character because as a tall person he is often stopped in grocery stories to help someone reach items on high shelves. His wife remarked “Hey, if this writing thing doesn’t pan out, you could always be a reacher in a supermarket.”
In 2008-2009, Child was a visiting professor at the University of Sheffield and funded 52 Jack Reacher scholarships for students at the university. He served as president of the Mystery Writers of America in 2009. Child makes a cameo appearance as a police desk sergeant in the movie “Jack Reacher” (2012).