27 October 2012

The Gifted Child

by John M. Floyd

Like most of my writer friends, I enjoy reading different genres.  In fact I read books and stories in almost all genres, except maybe romance novels--and now and then I even like a good love story.  As for authors, my favorites run from Bradbury to King to McMurtry to Cormac McCarthy, with a lot of offbeat writers in between.  One of my absolute favorites will probably always be Nelson DeMille--I love his novels and his style--and only a couple of years ago I discovered another great author, someone most crime/suspense readers have known about for a long time: Lee Child.

For some reason I didn't start reading his Jack Reacher series at the beginning.  I started with the twelfth installment, a novel called Nothing to Lose.  But after that one I was hooked.  I went on to seek out and devour every Reacher novel I could find (no Child left behind?), and I only recently finished the latest, A Wanted Man.  Unlike any other series I can recall, this one had not a single misfire; I enjoyed every one of these books.  Yes, some were better than others--I consider The Killing Floor, The Enemy, Die Trying, and The Hard Way to be among his best--but all of them are darn good.  Apparently a lot of readers agree.

If you don't know Jack . . .

Reacher is one of those rare characters that both men and women seem to like.  He's a former West Point grad and Army major who has since lost most of his respect for authority and conformity, and has a strict personal code of honor that sometimes reminds me of Robert B. Parker protagonists like Spenser and Jesse Stone.  Reacher is tough, smart, and resourceful; he owns nothing but a foldable toothbrush, an ATM card, and whatever clothes he happens to be wearing at the moment; he has no attachments, no home, no car, not even a driver's license; and he travels mainly via bus or hitchhiking.  Maybe that's why he's so appealing--he's nothing like the rest of us.  He also doesn't talk much.  One of the few criticisms I've heard of Child's writing style is that the sentence "Reacher said nothing" happens too often.  But, hey, Reacher often does say nothing.

The only drawback I've found to the series is that the titles usually aren't related at all to the content, which means I sometimes can't remember what title goes with what adventure.  And in the grand scheme of things, that ain't much to complain about.

Child psychology

The author, I'm told, is a native of England and a former television director--and I would guess that his background in TV probably influenced the entertainment value of his novels.  His books are always smooth, fast reads; there's a lot of action and excitement, and very few slow spots.  That's exactly what most TV productions strive for (although they don't always deliver), and is a perfect illustration of one of Elmore Leonard's famous Ten Rules of Writing: leave out the parts that people skip.

I think the best thing about Child's writing is that the stories themselves are fascinating, with plot reversals throughout.  I once heard that the creators of Cheers chose a Boston bar as its setting because in a neighborhood tavern different people would be coming in and going out all the time, thus there would always be stories available.  I would suggest that Lee Child made Reacher a drifter so that he could have limitless opportunities to run into interesting situations.

Short (?) subjects

As a movie lover, I must say a few words about the upcoming and long-awaited film adaptation of Child's novel One Shot, called (believe it or not) Jack Reacher.  I was a bit surprised by the casting of Tom Cruise in the lead role, mainly because Reacher's size--six-five and 200+ pounds--is, in the novels, a big factor in what he can accomplish and the impression he makes on the other characters.  I don't doubt for a minute Cruise's star power or his acting ability, but from a physical standpoint he does seem an odd choice.  (Russell Crowe isn't a giant either, but it seems to me he would've made a perfect Reacher.)  Having said that, I do understand that Child himself approved of the casting decision, and that helps dispel some of my doubts.  I suspect that I'll wind up enjoying the movie.

Something else that's close to my heart is short stories.  There are now two shorts starring Jack Reacher: "Second Son" and "Deep Down."  Both are available on Kindle, and I heard that the paperback version of The Affair contains a copy of "Second Son."  Apparently there is also one more Child short story featuring Reacher, although not as the main character: "James Penney's New Identity."  I look forward to reading all three.

Reaching Reacher readers

Have any of you read Lee Child?  If so, do you like his work?  Which book in the series is your favorite?  Your least favorite?  Are you familiar only with his novels, like me, or have you read his short stories as well?  What do you think of the Reacher character?  If you were producing the new movie, who would you choose for the part?

For those of you who haven't read the novels, here they are, in order of publication:

Killing Floor
Die Trying
Running Blind
Echo Burning
Without Fail
The Enemy
One Shot
The Hard Way
Bad Luck and Trouble
Nothing to Lose
Gone Tomorrow
61 Hours
Worth Dying For
The Affair
A Wanted Man

Next up: Never Go Back

I can't wait.


  1. I read killing floor and enjoyed it but havent gotten to further Child novels. i actually review one Of his stories this wek at Little Big Crimes.

  2. No Child left behind… (laughing) Too good, John.

    I have that same problem with titles in most of Dick Francis' books. Only a very few (like Bolt) can I connect with the plot. That's why looking at the Reacher list, I can't recall what I've read and what I haven't!

  3. John, the DorothyL mystery lovers' e-list has been like a kicked anthill for a year over the casting of little Tom Cruise as big Reacher. Everybody had an actor they would have preferred. Apparently Cruise loves the books so much that he tied up the rights; he's one of very few bankable superstars guaranteed to make the movie and a franchise a success; and, Lee's own point in an interview, he's also one of a few who can do all the action stuff and make it seem effortless. And imho, Lee certainly has a right to be laughing all the way to the bank. He's a lovely guy, btw, as tall as you, comes to all the parties when he's in New York, and has given a party for his fans (Reacher's Creatures) at Bouchercon every year for years. (Don't know if he did it this year.) For myself, I have to admit I'm in no danger of falling for Reacher since learning that he doesn't launder his underwear: he throws it away and buys a new pair when he thinks it's time. Ew. (Yep, there I go again, choosing character over plot.)

  4. Thanks, Rob, for that review of "I Heard a Romantic Story." Yet another Child short story that I have yet to read.

    Leigh, it seems Child always makes a reference somewhere in each book to its title, but never enough to make me remember--as you said--which book was which. But BOY do I love those novels.

    Liz, I'd heard that too, about Cruise's love for the series, and yes, he's certainly bankable. And I agree with you regarding Child himself--I met him a couple weeks ago at B'con. What a great guy!

  5. My personal favorite is THE ENEMY, in part because it looks back to when Reacher was still active-duty CID, and because you get to meet his mother and brother, but also because I find the milieu compelling. Much the same reasons for liking THE AFFAIR. Lee himself, as other people have pointed out, is an extremely guy, and rather self-deprecating, in the Brit manner. He once remarked: "Americans hear an English accent, and think you're intelligent."

  6. I usually have that problem with Elmore Leonard's titles. FREAKY DEAKY? PRONTO?

    I haven't met Child but I heard him interviewed at a Bcon and he was witty and charming.

  7. At the San Francisco Bouchercon, Child threw a party with free snacks, beer and wine for all attendees and he gave a TV interview on site. At the party, they had three men we were supposed to choose from as the one most resembling Jack Reacher. Personally, I thought the big, muscular Aussie cop should have won, except when he opened his mouth, that Aussie accent rolled out. As I recall, Tom Cruise was not a contender at the party. Oh well.

  8. I love all the Reacher books, and, like you, have trouble keeping up with the titles. One of my favorites was the one set in Nebraska (can't remember the title). I got to meet Child at Murder by the Book in Houston where he was doing a signing along with his brother, Andrew Grant. He was very down-to-earth, and even shook my hand when he found out my political affiliation.

  9. I, too, have read a couple, but don't know which ones. Fortunately Amazon knows, and tells me if I have already purchased the title. My Kindle will do the same.

  10. David, I too liked The Enemy because it filled in so many blanks of Reacher's backstory. Besides which, it reminded me of my time in the military.

    R.T., I'll always regret missing the SF B'con. I love that city and haven't been back for years now.

    I bet the novel you're thinking of, Linda, was Worth Dying For, which involved the evil Duncan family. That one reminded me a little of Echo Burning, for some reason.

    Herschel, I never thought the day would come when I couldn't remember whether I'd previously read a particular book . . . but it has. I sometimes think I read too many.


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