Tag Archives: Lee Child

That Child, I Tell Ya

Sam Leith praises Lee Child’s novels, saying everyone loves them cuz they’re just so awesome. “[Jack] Reacher incarnates both positive and negative liberty as set out by Isaiah Berlin: freedom to and freedom from.”

Raymond Chandler’s Marlowe and his literary offspring Spenser (from the hard-boiled American novelist Robert B. Parker) are paladins (Spenser: “My strength is as the strength of ten because my heart is pure”). Reacher is more like a masterless samurai: a ronin. He wanders hither and yon, like the Littlest Hobo or the A-Team, carrying his Bushido-style code of conduct with him like his folding toothbrush. He is entirely self-contained. He’s an island of extreme structure in a structureless world.

If you want an overview of Child’s Reacher novels, I’m sure this is a great one, but as we’ve seen before, not everyone loves them. (via Prufrock News)

Child on ‘Day of the Jackal’

From this interview in England last September, author Lee Child mentions Fredrick Forsyth.

I think that Without Fail [2002] would actually be my homage to Day of the Jackal, because it explicitly references Forsyth’s book. The emphasis there is placed upon the assassins planning for escape, as opposed to the [1993] Clint Eastwood/Wolfgang Peterson film, In the Line of Fire, in which the assassin knows he won’t be able to escape. As I said at the CWA Diamond Daggers ceremony, The Day of the Jackal … was Year Zero for the current generation of thriller writers; it was different, and re-set the clock, and we’ve all had to deal with it ever since. So, I didn’t mean it as a direct homage but acknowledged–for all of us, readers and writers–that Fredrick Forsyth is a giant figure, and his debut novel casts a giant shadow over the genre.

Fair, partly cloudy

The Minnesota State Fair. Artist’s Conception.

It occurs to me that I should have taken pictures at the State Fair on Saturday, like Lileks does. But then I realize, it was hard enough dragging myself around the fairgrounds, let alone taking a camera. I know people have tiny little cameras in their cell phones nowadays, but I’m a straggler on the dragging edge of technology. I only get things after they’re passé (except for my Kindle, which was a gift from… well, I won’t embarrass him again).

It was possibly the most perfect day for the fair I’ve ever seen, from the perspective of weather. Nice temperature, and it started sunny and then clouded over without actually raining more than the occasional tiny spit. This was great for the concessionaires, not so great for Avoidants and Introverts. You know that place in the gospels where Jesus is pushing through a crowd, and stops and says, “Who touched Me?” because (He says) “I felt power go out of Me”? I didn’t heal anybody (may have injured some) but when we pushed through a crowd of teenagers who suddenly appeared around us, screaming for some pop singers (or something) at a radio station booth, I felt the power go out of me, all right. I was a shell of a man by the time I got free of that.

The conclusion was obvious. I need to lose even more weight, and get some exercise. Which I’m trying to do.

Or else give up the fair.

I need to retract an endorsement.

Hunter Baker (funny, I was just thinking about him) commented on my review of Lee Child’s Killing Floor, writing the words I always dread:

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…

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.

Sad, but not really a surprise. No more of my hard-earned will flow to Lee Child either.

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.