Getting to grips with the phenomenon that is Lee Child

Killing Floor: (Jack Reacher 1) by Lee Child

Lee Child is a phenomenon. Made redundant by Granada TV at the age of forty, the Sheffield man who had initially studied law turned to writing and created the series of thrillers featuring Jack Reacher – there are now seventeen of them. Child is a worldwide bestselling author and now divides his time between the USA and the South of France.

I’d always treated this series with slight suspicion – they’re much beloved by the male side of my family, but I didn’t believe they would live up to the hype.  But then I saw Mariella gushing over Child  on a Sky Book Show programme, and thought – well maybe I ought to try one, I shouldn’t be so snobbish about it.

I started at the beginning – with the first novel, Killing Floor, published in 1997.  In a moment of serendipity, the day I picked up the book was October 29th.  That day you see, is Lee Child’s birthday, and Reacher’s too – the latter I knew from the first page where there is a CV of Reacher.

Reacher is an imposing chap – six foot five, dirty blond hair, fifty inch chest, and ice blue eyes. A former military policeman, he was demoted from a major to captain, but left as a major again.  Father a US Marine, so Jack and his brother grew up wherever their Dad was based.

No birth year given though.  Reacher is obviously a bit of a younger and maybe hunkier version of Child himself – who is very tall and slim with dirty blond hair.

So why, oh why, is shorty Tom Cruise playing him in Jack Reacher the movie (based on the 2005 novel One Shot) which will hit screens soon?  This is certainly a case of being glad to have formulated my own vision of the character from the book before seeing him on the screen.

Reacher is the modern day equivalent of Clint’s High Plains Drifter or Alan Ladd’s Shane. He’s a drifter and maverick, going where he pleases, paying no taxes, owning just the clothes on his back and what’s left of his army payoff. He arrives, shakes things up and leaves.

In Killing Floor, Reacher picks the wrong time to arrive in the town of Margrave, Georgia.  It was a sudden decision to get off the bus early to visit the town where a legendary bluesman had died decades before.  As soon as he arrives in town, having walked fourteen miles in the rain from the bus, he’s in trouble. The night before, there was a murder – he’s the stranger in town … he must have done it according to the policeman who takes him in.

Of course, these corrupt officers have picked the wrong buy to take the fall. Reacher is very soon able to free himself, and finds that the chief detective, Finlay, who is not part of the cabal, is under pressure. Reacher is able to put his years of expertise at the disposal of Finlay, and together with the overlooked policewoman Sgt Roscoe (who will naturally fall for his charms), they start to investigate the case. The bodycount will mount, and the layers of corruption in this little town are many; they will need all their skills to outwit the bad guys, however, by this time it’s personal for Reacher once they identify the first body …

I’m pleased to say all my preconceptions were wrong – this was a cracking good crime thriller.  Reacher is strong, physically and mentally. He’s a hard man, but one with a heart; he can love and show compassion, but won’t hesitate to kill if needed.  It’s a great move for Child to make his hero effectively a deputised sheriff rather than just a gun for hire, and it gives what would otherwise be a standard police procedural an edge.  The plot is complicated, and needs most of the 523 pages to be resolved, but it moves apace and keeps you guessing. A satisfying mystery with a charismatic hero – give me more!  (8.5/10)

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I bought my copy. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
Killing Floor: (Jack Reacher 1) by Lee Child. Paperback.
High Plains Drifter [DVD] – directed and starring Clint Eastwood
Shane [DVD] [1953] starring Alan Ladd.

9 thoughts on “Getting to grips with the phenomenon that is Lee Child

  1. This is a genre I rarely visit, not because I don’t enjoy it but because I don’t have the stamina for a lengthy series and I prefer stand-alone novels. I’m probably missing out as a result but I guess I’ll just have to live with it! 😉

    • gaskella says:

      Teresa, Child’s website suggests that with the exception of ‘The Enemy’ (which is a prequel), they are written to standalone. I always prefer to start at the beginning though.

  2. I really enjoy these, ideal for when you’ve had a surfeit of slightly sluggish books and need something to get that reading mojo back again, though I can only read them at staggered intervals. I couldn’t believe it when I heard Tom Cruise was playing Reacher, is the man so arrogant that he just can’t see he’s too small, too dark, too old…? One Shot is one of the best Reacher’s too.

  3. LizF says:

    I have always kept clear of Lee Child books for some reason but your review makes me think that I should at least take a look at them – you are usually right about this sort of book!
    It was the reference to High Plains Drifter that got me – I love that film!

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