The Jack Reacher series - classy, page-turning thrillers
I've been a fan of Lee Child's Jack Reacher titles from the first one I read. Hats off to Mr Child (real name Jim Grant), who has mastered writing bestselling American thrillers, despite being British. He pens classy novels with a twist and a turn in every chapter, books that make me eager to turn to the next page. This week I'll be reviewing his novel 'Personal', published in 2014.
First, however, a little about the Reacher series in general. Jack Reacher is an iconic character; tall, tough, an expert fighter, he wanders his home country of America with only a toothbrush and wallet in his pocket. He even spurns carrying a change of clothes, preferring to buy fresh attire as and when he needs it. He has no home, no car, no friends, no significant other, just a desire to live life off the grid and on his own terms. Reacher explores his homeland without so much as a holdall, claiming that if he were to allow possessions into his life, it would open the door to more... and more... and more. Which might lead to acquiring a house for all those possessions, and being settled is exactly what Reacher seeks to avoid.
The girls, the gadgets, the witty one-liners....
In terms of plot, the Reacher books are virtually identical. The novels are, as Child has remarked, essentially revenge stories – somebody does something bad, and Reacher exacts retribution. The plotline and location varies from title to title, but certain elements stay the same. That's not necessarily a bad thing, and I suspect Child employs this strategy for commercial reasons. Why? Because such tactics work. Take the James Bond movies. No matter who the latest Bond actor is, cinema goers know exactly what they'll get for their money. The girls, the gadgets, the witty one-liners... the basic plotline may vary, but the action and adventure remain constant. Guaranteed entertainment. It's no different with Lee Child's novels.
In many ways, I see similarities between James Bond and Jack Reacher. Reacher's as tough as Bond, if not more so. A towering six feet five inches of fighting prowess, he tends to tackle the bad guys in multiples, often taking on five or six men at once and leaving them dead or hospital cases. All the while offloading witty wisecracks - our man's verbally every bit as cool as James Bond. We all love Bond's laconic one-liners, but Reacher can come out with some gems of his own as he bats his ripostes across the conversational table. Take this example of his dry humour:
'I have no desire to go to Buckingham Palace anyway.'
'Wouldn't you like to meet the Queen?'
'Not really. She's just a person. We're all equal. Has she expressed any interest in meeting me?'
Entertainment, pure and simple
In addition, similar to Bond, Reacher always hooks up with a beautiful, beguiling female; Child's subplots are often concerned with the sexual tension that develops between the two. The epitome of machismo, Reacher is nevertheless portrayed as respectful towards women, despite his 'love 'em and leave 'em' attitude. Not that the latter matters. His cohorts aren't, on the whole, looking for a white picket fence; they're equally happy to enjoy some uncomplicated pleasure. Entertainment, pure and simple, for Jack, his women, and the reader.
Let's turn now to gadgets. Our hero has an encyclopaedic knowledge of weaponry, although he's a dinosaur when it comes to technology. Despite lacking Bond's fancy gizmos, Reacher employs any guns he comes across to great effect. He knows all about ballistics and firing strategies, facts ground hard into him during his years as a military policeman, and he uses his knowledge well, explaining it to the reader in a way that's never dull. And he's also a mean opponent with his fists and feet. You wouldn't want to piss off this guy, believe me.
What about his morality? Like Bond, Jack has no compunction about killing another human should the circumstances warrant it. I've read criticism of Lee Child for this, along the lines of how a cold-blooded murderer can't be a hero. I believe that's over-thinking the issue. Child's books are written to entertain, and I doubt anyone would level the same comment at James Bond, simply because he holds a licence to kill and Reacher doesn't. We're not meant to go all moralistic about Child's protagonist. Besides, Reacher has no trouble justifying his actions, either to himself or to others. Take this excerpt from 'Personal', in which he explains his attitude to killing one of the guys sent to apprehend him: 'He had a choice... he could have spent his days helping old ladies across the street. He could have volunteered in the library. I expect they have a library here. He could have raised funds for Africa, or wherever they need funds these days. He could have done a whole lot of good things. But he didn't. He chose not to. He chose to spend his days extorting money and hurting people. Then finally he opened the wrong door, and what came out at him was his problem, not mine. Plus he was useless. A waste of good food. Too stupid to live.'
'The stakes have never been higher...because this time, it's personal.'
On to the book review itself. Here's what Amazon says: 'Jack Reacher walks alone. Once a go-to hard man in the US military police, now he’s a drifter of no fixed abode. But the army tracks him down. Because someone has taken a long-range shot at the French president. Only one man could have done it. And Reacher is the one man who can find him. This new heart stopping, nail biting book in Lee Child’s number-one bestselling series takes Reacher across the Atlantic to Paris – and then to London. The stakes have never been higher - because this time, it’s personal.'
Number 19 in the series is one of the most entertaining Reacher novels that I've read. Whether that's because I'm British and the book is largely set in the UK, I'm not sure. It's certainly interesting to experience Lee Child, a fellow Brit, exploring our way of life through the eyes of an American, and not always reverently, which adds to the fun. Reacher doesn't hesitate to crack amusing references to the Queen, the London transport system and our police force, amongst other things, and it's hard not to smile at some of the absurdities he reveals. The novel moves along at a frantic speed, with hooks at the end of each chapter that drag the reader, metaphorically breathless, towards the next. Lines like: 'I headed towards the sound of her voice, and stepped into a room, and came face to face with myself.' Or: 'He had a gun in his hand, yet another Browning High Power, and he was pointing it straight at my head.' Who could resist turning the page after such a cliff-hanger?
A riveting read and a quality thriller
Unusually for a Reacher novel, the relationship between our protagonist and his female sidekick has a different flavour to the other Lee Child titles I've read. Reacher is more interested in helping rookie CIA agent Casey Nice with her personal issues than rolling her into bed, perhaps because there's a large age gap between them. It's plain he's attracted to her, though. Take this excerpt: 'She knocked on my door, and I opened up and found her in a ponytail and a version of her Arkansas outfit. The same brown leather jacket, over a white T-shirt, with different jeans. Same colour, but lower cut. And all scraped and sanded and beat up. Distressed, I believed they called it, which to me meant upset, which just didn't compute. Was there a finer place to be, than where those jeans were?'
'Personal' is a riveting read in my opinion, a great example of the Jack Reacher series. My view isn't shared by many on Amazon, however; the book has attracted a fair number of one-star reviews, many complaining that the plot is tedious and dumbed-down, and that Lee Child has run out of juice with the Reacher character. I disagree, and as long as Reacher's capable of kicking the butts of multiple antagonists in a fight, I'll keep reading his adventures.
Enough from me - over to you!
What do you think? Have you read 'Personal'? Do you enjoy Lee Child's Reacher novels? Or do you think the character has grown stale with repetition? Do you consider that Tom Cruise, at 5' 7", was miscast as 6' 5" Reacher in the movie? Whatever your thoughts, leave a comment and let me know!