Killing Floor, by Lee Child

After my unpleasant experience with Philip Kerr’s Field Gray, I was in the mood for something less ambitious and more fun. I found it in Lee Child’s first Jack Reacher thriller, Killing Floor.

Child, an English television writer who does a very creditable job portraying American characters and settings, knows a few important truths about thriller writing. He knows that “movie logic,” the phenomenon that allows movies to get away with a lot of unlikely or impossible story elements because “I just saw it right there,” also works—to a certain extent—in action novels. The very unlikely coincidence on which this book’s plot pivots doesn’t bear close examination, but Child treats it matter of factly and keeps the interest up, and most readers come along for the ride. I know I did. Enjoyed it too.

His hero is Jack Reacher, a former military policeman who was raised a Marine brat. Having left the Marines, he is now traveling the United States, getting to know the country of which he is a citizen, in which he has never actually spent much time. And so, purely on a whim, he gets off a bus and walks to a tiny town called Margrave, Georgia, where he is immediately arrested by the police. A man has been murdered, and the stranger is a natural suspect. By the time Jack’s alibi has checked out, he’s met a very attractive lady cop he wants to know better, and come to feel a certain responsibility for a fellow prisoner, a rich man who doesn’t know how to handle himself in lock-up. But when he learns the identity of the murdered man, Jack’s course of action is decided. He has an obligation.

Fortunately for the good guys, Jack’s a very dangerous man—the very kind of man you want around when you’re up against a murderous, amoral conspiracy.

Killing Floor has all the virtues—and some of the faults—of an inspired first novel. Some of the detective work seemed a little too neat to me, and one of the big mysteries probably won’t be as much a mystery to readers today as it was when the book was published, more than a decade ago. But I took it on its own terms and had a great time. I’m already reading the second Jack Reacher novel, Die Trying, which starts with another coincidence almost as dubious as the one that kicks off this book.

Jack Reacher has some similarities to Stephen Hunter’s Bob Lee Swagger, but the classic character he reminded me most of was John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee. Travis McGee, although he had a permanent address, lived on a house boat, and so was metaphorically adrift in the world. Jack Reacher is literally rootless, describing himself at one point as a hobo. The two have similar attitudes, and even resemble each other.

Killing Floor is recommended for grown-ups.

Update: Endorsement retracted. The reasons may be found here.

10 thoughts on “Killing Floor, by Lee Child”

  1. My dad’s a big Lee Child fan, and I picked this one up on audio last year. My crime fiction docket is full enough for my taste with Joseph Finder and Robert Crais as rich sources, but I enjoyed this one enough to pick up another. And my dad’s got a stack of them to choose from.

  2. I wonder if this isn’t borrowing from movie logic so much as from the old SF/Fantasy adage–“Readers will believe anything you tell them–once–at the very beginning of the book.”

    There seems to be the difference between an opening coincidence (the weird thing the book is about) and a closing coincidence (deus ex machina.)

  3. I have read a lot of Lee Child books, but had to stop a couple of years back. He revealed himself in a couple of books to be pretty seriously anti-Christian. And made the Reacher character share those views. That did it for me.

  4. Yes, it’s a real shame. I was a major fan of his. It began small with Reacher refusing to fly Alaska Airlines because they put a small bible verse on each tray. In a subsequent book, there is an extremely bizarre Christian character who is some kind of caricature of American evangelicals. Once I read that one, I just decided Lee Child didn’t need any more of my money.

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