It started when I watched Jack Reacher (2012), starring Tom Cruise. It was pretty good, and it’s as much fun seeing Robert Duvall in something as it is Christopher Walken. Plus, the bad guy is Werner Herzog! As it turns out, casting Cruise as Reacher is… interesting, but I’ll come back to that.
The movie is an adaptation of the 2005 Lee Child novel, One Shot, the ninth book in his Jack Reacher series. I enjoyed the movie enough that I thought I’d check out the book — my library had it (as well as the others in the series).
I’ve been binging on them ever since. To the point I’ve now read 16 of the 24 Lee Child Jack Reacher novels.
With this series the qualifications are important. Firstly, because there are also Jack Reacher short stories and novellas. Secondly, because the 25th novel, The Sentinel, the most recent published, was co-authored with younger brother Andrew. The two will co-author several before Andrew takes over the series.
Lee Child is a pen name for James Grant. His younger brother, Andrew Grant, is using the pen name Andrew Child, which keeps the authorial continuity.
I’m not big on other authors continuing a character-based series, and I usually refuse to follow once the original author has given up the helm (or life). I greatly respect how Sue Grafton put it in her will that her character, Kinsey Millhone, dies with her.
In contrast, someone is writing “Agatha Christie” stories.
Whatever. At least Lee and Andrew are keeping it in the family. My plan is to read the eight remaining Lee Child novels and go from there. I’ve read #2–#17. I just got my hands on the first book, Killing Floor (1997), which I’ve had on hold at the library since mid-March.
There is a second Tom Cruise movie, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (2016), which is based on the 18th book, Never Go Back (2013). I haven’t seen the movie, yet, nor read the book. Now that I’m through the earlier works, it and the rest are next.
The plots of the books are diverse enough to make the series somewhat hard to label. Most use the broad label of crime thriller (or the broader label of just thriller). Yet one reason I like these is that they aren’t big screen blockbuster thrillers, they’re smaller and, thus to me, far more engaging.
And I think they’re well written. Hard to put down — as easy to munch on as tortilla chips. Child knows how to keep the story moving along nicely. Put it this way: I read 15 of them between mid-March and mid-April. As I said, binging. Like on a bowl of chips. They’re fun!
They’re not really murder mysteries, although many of them do start with a killing, and all of them have body counts. They aren’t whodunits in the usual sense (except one totally is), but there often is a mystery involving what’s going on or who’s behind it.
They have more in common with detective stories and police procedurals, although Jack Reacher isn’t a detective, certainly not in any intentional sense, and isn’t part of any organization. Sometimes Reacher ends up working with law enforcement, but sometimes he’s on their bad side, even considered wanted (for any number of reasons).
There’s a tiny resemblance to the Travis McGee stories, at least in terms of the protagonist’s lack of affiliation, desire for idleness, and willingness to do whatever it takes to achieve justice. On the other hand, McGee had a home base and people sought him out for help. Reacher is homeless and essentially unknown.
I see Reacher as the Lone Ranger — a mysterious stranger who appears, saves the day, moves on. Child sources Reacher from old European stories, medieval tales of the knight-errant (which come from even older stories, such as the Japanese ronin). In all cases, the wanderer who comes upon a situation, gets involved (always on the side of justice), and then rides off to other adventures. (Humanity has been writing serials for a long time.)
(The fiction character) Jack Reacher is the son of US Marine, so he and his brother Joe grew up on military bases around the world. They never stayed in one place very long. As a kid, Reacher (even his mother called him Reacher) got into a lot of fights with other boys, and he learned to fight to win.
When he was 18, he joined the Army, was accepted at West Point, and served in the military police, rising as high as major. He was demoted to captain (for reasons explained in one of the stories). He served with honor, won notable awards (including a Silver Star and a Purple Heart), and ran the (fictional) 110th Special Investigations Unit, which handled especially tough cases.
He chose to leave the Army in 1997, at age 36, in part because of downsizing due to the peace dividend and in part because of reasons explained in one of the stories (he pissed off someone high up the chain).
He’s big, six-foot-five, and built like a tank. His Army special training turned a boyhood scrapper into a fighting force of nature. Army MPs had to be able to deal with the biggest and baddest the Army had to offer. Reacher, as they say, doesn’t start fights, but he does finish them.
At the same time, he’s a highly intelligent and educated man (a West Point graduate). He solves more problems with his mind than with his fists. I like that he has something of a penchant for numbers, notices them and likes to play with them. (Bad Luck and Trouble (2007) begins when someone deposits money into his bank account, and he realizes that the weird amount — the dollars and cents values — is a message.)
When the series begins, Reacher is out of the Army. The above is backstory we learn, mainly from three of the novels telling stories from Reacher’s Army days, but also from things Reacher says or remembers. Now his life consists of wandering around America seeing its sights. He lives off his Army pension and the occasional odd job. Sight-seeing is his only goal. His only possessions are ID and a traveling toothbrush. He mostly gets around by hitchhiking.
But he keeps stumbling into these situations…
Dangerous situations involving dangerous people, and the variety of the situations Child comes up with impresses me. They don’t have much of a common denominator, either in how they start, or in what’s going on. Sometimes Reacher gets sucked into something, sometimes he sees something and involves himself.
For instance, in the second book, Die Trying (1998), he’s accidentally kidnapped along with the federal agent he happened to pass on the street. She dropped something, he picked it up, the kidnappers assumed they were together. (That was their first mistake.)
In Nothing to Lose (2008), he’s run out of a small town he’s passing through, gets curious about why, and involves himself in an explosive and life-threatening situation, a madman, and a recycling facility. It’s a little bit like First Blood (1972), but only a little.
In 61 Hours (2010) he’s on a bus that accidentally ends up the ditch during a snowstorm. Unexpectedly stuck in the nearby town, he gets caught up in an explosive and life-threatening situation. I think here Child was doing Holmes and Moriarty at Reichenbach Falls, either as an homage or (given the title) for real trying to end the series. But since that’s now only book #14 (of 27 published or planned), it’s obvious Reacher survives. (Most books, he just leaves town.)
I’ll say it again: I read 15 of these in a month’s time and wasn’t bored. I only stopped because I had the first two on hold and wanted to read them before jumping to #18 and beyond. Die Trying finally became available early this month and now, so has Killing Floor.
The movie led me to the books. The books motivated me to try the show. I haven’t read the book, so can’t speak on plot changes, but I’d say Ritchson nailed Reacher. He’s built like Reacher is described to be (although he’s only six-foot-two), so it’s not hard to believe he could take on five guys. (When Tom Cruise does it, it’s movie magic.)
Given all the bad adaptations I’ve seen (usually of science fiction texts), this was a breath of fresh air and gets an Ah! rating. Worth seeing (as always: if you like that sort of thing). The plot involves Reacher coincidentally and unknowingly visiting the same town where his brother was murdered a short time before.
If this show follows the pattern of many others (such as The Expanse), season two (which has been ordered) will adapt book two, and so on for however long the series lasts. The books published already considerably outnumber the lifetimes of most series.
Most of the action is small-scale, Child keeps it close and personal. The stakes are relatively small, only handfuls of people involved. I’m weary of world-saving (let alone of reality as we know it). He also keeps things pretty realistic on most levels in terms of what people can do. And he’s not afraid to sometimes kill off key characters, even among the small, rarely appearing, recurring cast.
As a writing note, the books are usually written in third person omniscient (present tense), but a handful are written in first person. I’ve read two of the (three) stories that take place while he was an MP in the Army; both those are in first person. Past tense, if I recall correctly, as though Reacher was telling the story. Those aren’t the only ones in first person, though. Child uses it in a few books in Reacher’s current timeline (including the first book).
One book uses some creepy second person present tense. Ask yourself why. It’s a clue to whodunit. In fact, once you see why Child used second person, it’s kind of obvious.
Speaking of which, I’m usually so bad at guessing whodunit that I don’t even try, I just sit back and enjoy the story. But in this series, a surprising number of times, I’ve guessed the big plot secret, especially when it involves who the secret bad person is. That might actually be an aspect of Child making his plots realistic. In real life, secrets are hard to hide.
These books (and their adaptations) are pure escape, but they’re well-written and intelligent escape. They move along and are hard to put down. The variety makes it easy to want to get to the next one to see what happens to Reacher this time.
Stay Reaching, my friends! Go forth and spread beauty and light.