I love Jack Reacher. Fact. When the world is a sad, bad, scary place, I feel reassured just knowing that he can come along and kick some ass for me.
Solid, dependable, and analytical to a flaw; there’s still light at the end of the tunnel as long as Jack Reacher walks this earth. Jack Reacher might just be my spirit animal. His preference for solitude, uneasiness around staying in one place too long, and almost phobic response to commitment are things I completely identify with. It may not be everyone’s ideal, but to me, Jack Reacher’s alienation represents the ultimate freedom.
Originally published a little under twenty years ago, Killing Floor was the first of Lee Child’s books about one Jack ‘none’ Reacher. I came a little late to the party, discovering them about seven years back, when it was love at first read. 250 pounds of smoking-hot hero. Sexy to boot. I was hooked. Who was this loner? What was his story? What of his past, and what did his future hold?
More than a little rough around the edges, he’s not quite an avenging angel, nor a vigilante, but perhaps a character cast in some sort of modern-day Western. Child has gifted his creation with a vocation for justice and an intrinsic sense of right and wrong, although the lines often get a little blurry along the way. Reacher attempts to slink through this life unremarkably, but try as he might, he is always pulled into some damn mess, ever the anti-hero, because bad guys need their comeuppance. And Jack Reacher will sure as hell give it to them.
There’s something unique and addictive around the way Child writes, which is why, 21 books later, he is an award-winning author, having sold over 70 million copies of his Reacher titles world-wide, and still counting. His books may on the surface appear somewhat formulaic – we know Jack will save the day, we know he’ll get the girl, but so what? It’s the inventive nuances of Mr Child that keep me captivated. For me, Lee’s books are up there with the best of them, because from the outset I know something terrible is happening, but I just don’t know what, why, or how bad it could be. Reading Reacher books are like playing a game of Cluedo on acid, where I’m misdirected, confounded, frustrated and teased right up until the final climactic moments. They are simply unputdownable.
So when I recently came to work for Transworld, home of Jack Reacher, nothing both thrilled and frightened me more. What would happen when I went through the looking glass? I became increasingly anxious as the publication date for Night School, the latest Reacher tale, drew ever-near. What if being this side of the curtain stole the mystery and magic right out from under me? In a world literally falling apart at the seams, I couldn’t bear to have my one safety net snatched away too. I needn’t have worried though, from the opening lines of Night School I knew wholeheartedly and unequivocally I was falling, hook, line, and sinker for Reacher all over again. He’s one habit I can’t kick.
Being at Transworld has also afforded me the wonderful opportunity to take a much closer look at the man and his creator, which is why, one rainy autumn evening, I find myself in the back of a book store, my attention rapt, listening to Child delivering a Q and A session to eager devoted fans, a half-smile playing around his lips, his eyes bright and full of energy.
Child is a pleasure to listen to; he is sincere, eloquent, and certainly never professes to be something he isn’t. His penchant for cutting through the BS is a refreshing and endearing quality.
Child guides us through his writing methods – an extremely solitary process – that when beginning a book he never plans it out, he never knows where he’s going or how it all ends, (sounding a little familiar?) just that he’ll get there when Reacher does. In this way he completely submits to Reacher’s will, playing hard, fast and loose, enjoying the unexpected journey. But doesn’t this bother him? the audience want to know. Why would it? A nonchalant shrug – his unwavering faith in Reacher means he knows he’ll figure it out eventually.
As Child talks it seems as if at times he and Reacher truly are one, a symbiosis. Where he ends, the other begins. The audience are itching to know – exactly how much of Lee is in Reacher? He’s definitely Reacher, but then, he tells us, he’s also the bad guys too; varying hues of morality. So if Jack gets to play the victor, what role does that leave for Lee? Simply put, in his own words, he says with an air of deference: ‘I’m the guy who writes Reacher. I’m the Reacher guy.’
And where did Reacher come from? Lee tells us Reacher spawned from every tale and legend told throughout time concerning the noble, nomadic protector, a real ‘knight errant’. The character who saves the world and then has to move on, a traveller with no fixed abode and no chartered destination. This guy never sticks around, because that’s part of the deal right? Sticking around gives you the opportunity to fall from grace, to become human, regular and normal. Child talks with such passion about how it is this separation and dislocation from the norm that continue to make Reacher so intoxicating 21 books down the line.
Bringing his session to a close, Child assures us that the real Reachers of the world do in fact exist – the dedication he has penned in the front of Night School a testament to this – which is something that brings comfort to those listening, and no doubt to all his readers out there who have stuck by Lee and Jack these last twenty years.
Because, ultimately, everyone needs a superhero to believe in. Someone to save the world for them. And Jack Reacher is mine.