Monday, October 17, 2011

Lee Child Gives Us a Hero

Meet Jack Reacher: Former Military Police officer. Standing 6’5” tall and tipping the scales at 250 pounds, Jack Reacher is a supreme bad-ass. Extremely resourceful, courageous, and intelligent, Reacher’s intrepid adventures make reading an addictive blast. 

It is to Lee Child, Jack Reacher’s creator, that we owe our thanks. Child, a British thriller writer focused mainly in crime fiction mystery, created the Reacher series in 1997 when he released the super-sensational, award-winning Killing Floor. After its release, Child was named honorable recipient to Anthony, Barry, Dilys, and Macavity awards, all of which recognize excellence in the crime fiction and mystery genres. Child has published fifteen Reacher novels to date to which nine have been awarded literary merits. Child’s set-list includes:

The Killing Floor (1997)
Die Trying (1998)
Tripwire (1999)
Running Blind (2000)
Echo Burning (2001)
Without Fail (2002)
Persuader (2003)
The Enemy (2004)
One Shot (2005)
The Hard Way (2006)
Bad Luck and Trouble (2007)
Nothing to Lose (2008)
Gone Tomorrow (2009)
61 Hours (2010)
Worthy Dying For (2010)


Before Child became an established novelist, he wrote for several British television shows such as Brideshead Revisited, Jewel in the Crown, Prime Suspect, and Cracker. Upon being released from the television network due to corporate restructuring, Child turned to composing novels stating that they are “the purest form of entertainment.” Child has masterfully captured this concept of entertainment as he applies it to every last word, of every last sentence, of every last page in his novels.

So, how is Child’s style and methodology so effective? 

Well, he adopts a very simple approach to his writing such that he grabs the reader’s attention almost immediately and never, for one second, lets it dissipate. He keeps chapters extremely intense in terms of entertainment while structurally keeping them short in duration. Child instinctively knows the reader never wants to be bored. In order to prevent such a disaster from occurring, he constantly jumps around from character to character, scene to scene, angle to angle, thereby leaving the reader amidst a swirl of high-velocity, high-octane, action packed drama. In this way, the reader glides from page to page nervously excited to see how Reacher cracks the case.

Child has a penchant for opening his novels directly in the middle of the action. This literary method known as in media res, Latin for “into the middle of things,” works wonderfully in the Persuader, Child’s seventh installment, which involves Jack Reacher as he enters a criminal organization in order to bring down a former adversary of his. Child begins The Persuader, amidst a gun-slinging shootout, with:

“The cop climbed out of his car exactly four minutes before he got shot. He moved like he knew his fate in advance.”

From this sentence alone, the reader is instantaneously hooked. Child continues succinctly describing the settings of the scene:

“I was set up to the south. I had an anonymous brown panel van parked outside a music store. The store was the kind of place you find near a college gate. It had used CDs in racks out on the sidewalk and posters in the windows behind them advertising bands people never have heard of. I had the van’s rear doors open. There were boxes stacked inside. I had a sheaf of paperwork in my hands. I was wearing a coat, because it was a cold April morning. I was wearing gloves, because the boxes in the van had loose staples where they had been torn open. I was wearing a gun, because I often do. It was wedged in my pants, at the back, under the coat. It was a Colt Anaconda, which is a huge stainless steel revolver chambered for the .44 Magnum cartridge. It was thirteen and a half inches long and weighed almost four pounds. Not my first choice of weapon. It was hard and heavy and cold and I was aware of it all the time.”

It is here that Child shows his mastery in teleporting his audience to the scene. He uses short-structured, simple sentences to create the visual in an effective, poignant way. Never in my life have I been more titillated by an author’s writing. By the end of the first page, my heart is racing and the vicarious thrill of experiencing this epic shoot-out is euphoric. Often times, movie scenes are more associated with creating this spark of arousal because the sensory elements are so vividly visible, as to be undeniably palpable, to the audience. Child undoubtedly uses his experience in television to effortlessly mimic this same quality in his novels. 

Child writes with a polished authenticity such that there is nothing phony or superfluous about his prose. In fact, every detail pertinently keeps the reader in the moment:

“What happened next occupied eight seconds, but it felt like the blink of an eye.”

By keeping matters so real and precise, Child forces his audience to team up with Reacher. Together we remain alertly strapped in for the tumultuous roller-coaster ride that is, surely, to ensue.

Reacher is the perfect combination of brains and brawn. He is extremely cool, calm, collected, and meticulously strategic. He loves the preciseness of numbers and is forever calculating distances, odds, and situational outcomes:

“The truck kept on coming, tiny in the distance, slow and patient and methodical. Half-left, straight ahead, half-right. Its half-right turns aimed it directly at him. Now it was about a thousand yards away. He couldn’t make out the driver. Therefore in return the driver couldn’t make him out. Not yet, anyway. But it was only a matter of time. It would be at a distance of about two hundred yards, he figured, when his vague crouching shape resolved itself. Maybe a hundred and fifty, if the windshield was grimy. Maybe a hundred, if the driver was shortsighted or bored or lazy. Then there would be a blank moment of dawning realization, and there would be acceleration. Maximum speed over the rough ground would be about thirty miles an hour. Somewhere between seven and fifteen seconds, between launch and arrival.”

This ability to calculate and figure, which Child has so masterfully embedded into Reacher, excites the reader and stimulates the cognitive processes. 

In Child’s latest installment, Worth Dying For, Reacher finds himself deep in the heart of Nebraska, entangled with a vicious gang of brothers known as the Duncans. As Reacher tries to unfold the events surrounding a missing child cold case, the Duncans aim to eliminate Reacher by any means possible.

However, Child has patented Reacher with an unparalleled, indestructible will to survive adversity. Child presents these mash-ups in ways that are both thrilling and effective:

“So Reacher backed off ten feet and the door opened up and the guy jumped out, a big slabby white boy, very young, maybe six-six, close to three hundred pounds. He ran five feet and stopped dead. His hands bunched into fists. The guy just stood there, rooted. So Reacher ran in again, and the guy swung at him, and missed. Reacher ducked under the blow and popped the guy in the gut and then grabbed him by the collar. The guy went straight down in a crouch and cradled his head defensively. Reacher pulled him back to his feet and hauled him away across the field, fast, thirty feet, forty, then fifty. He stopped and the guy swung again and missed again. Reacher feinted with a left jab and threw in a huge right hook that caught the guy on the ear. The guy wobbled for a second and then went down on his ass.”

Again, Child’s language ricochets off the page in short, automatic clips like bursting machine-gun artillery. This style of simplicity keeps the language pure and is extremely effective in creating a live, real-time interpretation of the scene. As Reacher dodges and administers blows, likewise, so does his audience.

Jack Reacher is an iconic hero that appeals to a vast audience: those that are turned on by a 6’5”, 250 pound beast who unflinchingly snaps the necks, arms, and legs of rival assailants, as well as those that are turned on by an intellectual stud who possesses a strong acumen for deductive reasoning that always keeps him one step ahead of his enemies. 

Child creates a powerfully unique relationship between Reacher and his audience. We rely on him, we admire him, we love him and we want to emulate him. We try to mimic his resolve as we join him in his pursuits. As he calculates, we calculate. As he remains unbroken, we remain unbroken. When he feels pain, we, too, feel pain. We seek to vicariously fulfill vengeance on his enemies. In short, we cannot live--much less survive--without Jack Reacher. 

Thank you, Lee Child, for constantly putting the reader on the edge of his or her seat and giving America a new pastime. 


In the near future, it is expected that Reacher’s adventures will make it to the big screen. This is long overdue. However, rumors have it that Tom Cruise is expected to play the role of Jack Reacher. This news makes me want to puke in my mouth. Tom Cruise represents everything that Jack Reacher isn’t. Jack Reacher is 6’5”, 250 pounds while Tom Cruise is 5’7”, 150 pounds. Jack Reacher is a quiet, well-reserved gentleman while Tom Cruise is a loud-mouthed egomaniac. Jack Reacher is rough and rugged while Tom Cruise is Hollywood’s pretty boy. It would not do the series any good to have Child’s brilliant protagonist portrayed by someone that represents the complete antithesis of what Reacher is, and who he is. 

If you haven’t read Lee Child, it’s not too late to start. His books are sold nationwide and are available at local bookstores and libraries, and can also be purchased online. Once you go Jack, you’ll never go back.

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