Message From The Author
The Unlikely Hero
LEE CHILD'S WILD DRIFTER JACK REACHER
CAPTURES HEARTS AND MINDS
By Tara Gelsomino
In all the mystery genre, there's no one quite like Jack Reacher. Armed with nothing more than a rapid-fire brain and fists of steel, the ex-military policeman roams the country, getting tangled up in nasty crimes and extracting justice at all costs. In a sea of cops, private investigators, prosecutors and amateur sleuths, this dynamic drifter, whose penchant for good Samaritanism leads him into powder keg after powder keg, is truly an original. The same could be said of his creator, author Lee Child.
A former British television news producer, Child created the enigmatic Reacher in his own image, to some extent. They share the same quicksilver mind, split-second instinctual timing and pragmatic nature. Although Child has no personal experience with the military, he thought carefully before crafting his antihero, intentionally molding him to stand out from the crowd. "There's only about three books a century that people remember for their ingenious plot," he says. "I wanted to write a character who was interesting and cool, but I didn't want to force it."
Instead of relying on the same tired tropes and locales, Child reached into the past, tapping into the ancient traditions of medieval chivalrous literature to craft his wandering dark knight. (An early attempt at helping his wife, Jane, an Anglo-Saxon scholar, write a historical novel may have sown some seeds of inspiration.) His efforts resulted in an iconic hero who doesn't hesitate to use extreme measures -- and often extreme violence -- to right societal and personal wrongs in the quest for greater good.
"I'm fascinated by the idea of dislocation," Child explains. "Coming out of the military and entering the civilian world for Reacher is like he's an alien coming to Earth for the first time." The fish-out-of-water element combined with the mysterious-stranger-comes-to-town device struck a chord with readers. The debut book in the Reacher series, Killing Floor, won the 1997 Anthony Award for Best Novel and also garnered Barry and Dilys awards and a Macavity nomination. Each subsequent novel in the series has racked up glowing praise, bestselling credentials and other honors. The 11th installment, Bad Luck and Trouble, was published in May and received a Top Pick from Romantic Times BOOKreviews.
In this novel, Reacher is called to action by his old military police unit when some of the members go missing and later turn up dead, having been kidnapped and tortured. It's a revealing glimpse into Reacher's past as readers meet a group of highly skilled men and women who all have the same stunning aptitude and intelligence for tactical thinking. It's also the first time in the series that Reacher shows a vulnerable side. His confidence is shaken when he sees how easily his former peers have adapted to civilian life.
"He has a moment of uncertainty, and really, it was time for one. What better way to look at these people who were his exact equals that went in such different directions with their lives," Child explains. "When he sees what they've accomplished, it's only natural for him to wonder, 'Am I doing the right thing with my life?'"
Of course, a wistful moment or two doesn't mean that Reacher will be settling down in a subdivision. "He's not capable of living a normal life. He may think of trying to settle down -- and he has from time to time when he meets a nice woman -- but he can't quite pull it off for long. And because Reacher is only attracted to smart women, he knows that, and they know that too."
And women are surely attracted to Reacher. Child's devoted readership is overwhelmingly female. The idea of a neck-snapping tough guy charming the feminine masses is one that's been widely discussed in Child's press junkets, but the English-born author admits that Reacher's appeal to the fairer sex doesn't surprise him. "As a man, I like to read about dynamic women, and I'm not surprised the reverse would be true. Besides, all the genres are meeting in the middle today. Romance has more suspense, and mysteries are getting more romantic."
Sure enough, in Bad Luck and Trouble, Reacher again finds his share of romance, and he deals with one of the most dynamic women the series has introduced. The formidable Frances Neagley, who appeared briefly in book six, Without Fail, returns to help spearhead this mission, and Child drops some tantalizing hints that the character has quite the interesting backstory. But that may have to be a tale left untold. "If I were ever to take a break from Reacher, it would be for Neagley," Child says. "I've gotten the most questions and feedback from readers about her, and it would be interesting to delve into that. But I also think that it's that element of mystery that's keeping people interested. If I tell her secrets, will she be as appealing? Maybe not."
In the meantime, readers have plenty of Reacher adventures to look forward to. In an homage to one of his favorite writers, John D. MacDonald, who penned the 21-book Travis McGee series, Child plans to pen a matching blackjack's-hand worth of stories.
Child's mostly mum on their contents, but he does admit we'll likely see Reacher's ex-MP pals again, especially since he plans to tell the story of why Reacher left the Army someday. He also teases that the final novel will be titled Die Alone,and that Reacher will do just that, going out in a "blaze of glory" and dying a bloody death, alone in a hotel room somewhere.
Child's devoted fans (often dubbed the Reacher Creatures), however, might have something to say about that. At last year's Thrillerfest, the first conference of the new International Thriller Writers organization, Reacher (aptly played by Child) was put on trial for his life because of his bloodthirsty actions in the novel Persuader.
"That was great fun," he says. "We wanted to be a little more dynamic than the usual workshops and panels. It was an interesting way to look at the question: 'Do we approve of what our characters do?'" Despite excellent defense and prosecution by writers Paul Levine and Michele Martinez, the production ended in mistrial. Regardless, Child is sure he knows the true verdict. "Reacher's a tough guy, but he has a heart of gold! Not guilty, of course," he chuckles. "Actually, if he'd been found guilty, there might have been an insurrection ... "
And let's face it, an incensed Reacher fan might just be the very definition of Bad Luck and Trouble.
LEE CHILD'S FIVE FAVORITE THINGS
1. RIMOWA ROLL-ON LUGGAGE: I don't travel quite as light as Reacher, but I get what I need in my Rimowa roll-on, which has supplanted my old Tumi in my affections. Polycarbonate, black, cool, light -- works for me.
2. FABERGÉ AGATHON: Reacher tells the time in his head, and I'm pretty good at that too, but for a back-up I love my Fabergé Agathon ... the first automatic watch I've had that's sensitive enough to cope with my inert lifestyle.
3. MY GIBSON EB-3: I own six bass guitars, and right now my favorite is my Gibson EB-3. Cherry red, chunky nickel hardware ... like Jack Bruce played 40 years ago in Cream.
4. CHEANEY SHOES: Same outfit as Church's, but their junior brand fits me better. I have three pairs, way more than a guy needs.
5. ARTEMIDE TOLOMEO DESK LIGHTS: I have five in my apartment and love them.
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