Jack Reacher Series, by Lee Child
Published: first book, 5th August 2010
Read all 19 Jack Reacher novels. That’s all of them. Peruse the Amazon review sections of any of the Lee Child novels and you’ll learn that this is not impressive. But read them in a row, and the effects will be profound. You will profess to understand why a police officer might shoot a suspect six times without asking a single question. You will become so involved in Reacher’s universe that you would look for the 12 signs that someone was a suicide bomber. Rarely does a book or books spill into your world in this fashion.
Play any of the games from the Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare franchise for a prolonged period of time and, afterwards, when you’ve put down the controller, switched off your machines and ventured outside, you will check your corners, judge distances and take stock of what’s in your pockets. No enemies lurk, waiting to slit your throat, but your brain can’t tell the difference, and that’s what the Reacher books will do to you.
All 19 novels invariably follow the same formula (a boon and a curse), with Reacher, once a decorated Military Police major, wandering the United States of America with nothing but a foldable toothbrush, an expired passport and a wad of used notes in his pockets. He buys new clothes every few days so he doesn’t have to bother with luggage and frequents public transport so he can do and see everything he didn’t during his days spent serving his country.
The plots thicken in certain situations. Reacher will either sniff out, stumble into or be asked to take part in lots of juicy trouble. In the very first novel, Killing Floor, Reacher, following a tip from his brother about where jazz musician spent his life, decides to stop off in a small town for something to eat and a place to sleep. In another novel, an old army comrade deposits a sum of money into his bank account that corresponds to a Military Police code—quite possibly the only way anyone could get in touch with him, ever. All 19 novels use similar methods to drive the plot, and all manage to stay realistic enough to believe. The old ‘wrong place, wrong time’ worked, or didn’t work out, depending on your point of view, for John MaClane of Die Hard, and does so here many times.
By his very nature, Reacher is curious and 99 percent moral outrage, so the reader can well believe he might get himself into 19 life threatening situations, instead of upping sticks and moving to somewhere hot, sunny and not in the USA. But ‘formulaic’ does spring to mind, often. Reacher, either through the third or first person (Child oddly employs both throughout the series), is witty, violent, mathematic and nigh-on indestructible—a great protagonist. Yet, he gets himself into mess after mess after mess, time and time again. Would a man really wonder the USA for a decade, as Reacher does? If we prefer instead to suspend disbelief and say ‘yes’, would a man live this long? Reacher is cut, shot, blown up, drugged, arrested and beaten, and still he goes on investigating, when he’s not rambling. The rambling is explained, often, but it is never resolved. He never seems to find what he’s looking for, and that’s frustrating for the reader, because this man deserves a happy ending.
Such is the only problem with the Reacher novels. They do get repetitive at times, particularly when Child regurgitates, penguin-style, whole passages of text to feed new readers the necessary back-story, and Reacher’s forays into Europe, mainly England from where the author hails, stink of the awkwardness naturally inherent in a foreigner describing a foreign land from the ultimate perspective of a local, don’t disturb what is downright good storytelling. Reacher is Rambo with a brain, and probably more brawn than Tom Cruise could ever muster.