You probably know Jack Reacher from the movies, but have you ever met him on the printed page?
I stumbled upon the Jack Reacher novels while looking for a good book to read in a Palm Beach sundries shop. As a science fiction/adventure/thriller fan, I’m surprised it took me so long to discover the Reacher novels and their brilliant author, Lee Child.
In the character of Jack Reacher, Child has created one of the most compelling protagonists in contemporary fiction. First of all, he doesn’t look anything like Tom Cruise. Cruise is a shrimp in comparison to the character described in the novels. Reacher is an ex-Army Military Policeman, standing six feet five inches tall, in top physical condition, with hands as big as sledgehammers. He’s a decent looking guy, but nothing to write home about, aside from his size.
Something in Reacher’s past keeps him riding buses and drifting from town to town in search of something. That something usually turns out to be someone in need of help. Reacher’s involvement with the something always leads to mounting trouble and extreme danger.
While Jack Reacher is a tough guy who can stand up to six guys at once, he’s also a good Samaritan. In The Midnight Line, the first novel I had the pleasure of reading, Reacher takes an aimless stroll past a pawn shop in a small Midwestern town. In the window, he sees a West Point class ring from 2005. It’s tiny; a woman cadet’s graduation present to herself. Why would she give it up? Reacher is a West Pointer too, and he knows what she went through to get it.
Reacher tracks the ring back to its owner, step by step, down a criminal trail leading west into the deserted wilds of Wyoming. All he wants is to find the woman. If she’s OK, he’ll walk away. If she’s not, he’ll stop at nothing until the situation is rectified.
I found The Midnight Line to be an engrossing tale enriched with interesting, believable characters. The story kept me absorbed all the way through to its satisfying ending. I’ve followed up with Child’s penultimate book in the series, Past Tense. It’s a unique story that begins a bit slowly with Jack Reacher visiting a small town to trace his roots. The story veers off in an unusual subplot that unfolds at a remote hotel and merges with the main plot in an explosive, thrilling climax.
The prose and dialogue in both books flow in staccato, muscular sentences, much like Reacher’s speech pattern. It’s cool, once you get used to it. Occasionally, the characters sound too much alike, with Child’s hyper intelligent voice seeping through. This is a minor gripe. I find Child’s prose eminently readable, enjoyable, and interesting. The author packs his story with enlightening background information which relates directly to the story. I heartily recommend the Reacher series to action/adventure/mystery fans everywhere.
After reading both novels, I’m left wondering what drives Jack Reacher? It’s not money. He’s comfortable living off his Army pension. While his life is lonely, he isn’t looking for love. Women are attracted to him, but he’s only capable of forming brief relationships. In Midnight Line, one of the women Reacher is helping wants to bed him. She’s a beautiful twin-sister to the woman they are searching for. She’s unhappily married to an emotionally distant husband. Reacher could easily rationalize having sex with her, but he won’t do it. He has integrity. He has a code of honor, maybe resulting from his military background, but he’s hardly a goody-goody. Reacher is not afraid to break the rules or think outside of the box when confronted with difficult situations. He’s resourceful, observant, and downright ingenious at times. He’s a leader, in a lone-wolf, non-conformist sort of way.
Reacher may sound like a big cliche, but somehow, Lee Child breathes life into the guy. He may be strong, but he’s deeply wounded emotionally. He doesn’t fit in, and he can’t settle down. But unlike so many contemporary protagonists, he isn’t haunted by his past. He doesn’t spend a single minute feeling sorry for himself. He’d rather get on with his life, help someone else, solve a mystery, or whatever he does in the books I haven’t read yet. Granted, there’s a strong tendency towards avoidance going on inside this man, but it’s hard to hold it against him.
Reacher is street smart and highly intelligent. He’s seen too much of the dark side of human nature, but it hasn’t made him cynical. His attitude is always upbeat. He communicates with tongue-in-check humor occasionally laced with irony. He doesn’t judge. He acts and reacts, sometimes with tact and diplomacy, sometimes with blunt force. Yet, he never looks for a fight. To get what he wants, Reacher always tries diplomacy and straight-forward-honestly first. If the people he’s dealing with refuse to listen to reason, they usually wind up in various stages of disrepair when they choose violence as a solution.
So, what drives Jack Reacher? I don’t know. Maybe I’ll find out if I read more of his books. Maybe not. For sure, I’d like to sit down and have a long chat with this intriguing fellow. I know this much, if nothing else: it’s hard not to like Jack Reacher, and I can’t wait to tag along with him on his next adventure.
David Gittlin has written three feature length screenplays, produced two short films, and published three novels. Before quitting his day job, he spent more than thirty years as a marketing director building expertise in advertising, copy writing, corporate communications, collateral sales materials, website content/design and online marketing. For more information, please visit www.davidgittlin.com