“Think Twice,” by John Lanchester. The New Yorker, 11/14/2016.
Our old friend, Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer, whose adventures we all followed in high school (all us guys, that is), is back as Jack Reacher in a series of books by British author Lee Child. The Reacher character is super tough, a 6’5″, 250 lbs, former military policeman. He is an expert sniper and good with all sorts of weapons.
We all know this is silly fantasy, but the descriptions of his fights sound real (and we don’t even have to be there):
The guy brought his arm up to protect his head, and the bat caught his elbow, and his triceps, which impact smashed the heavy bone of his upper arm backward into the point of his jaw, where his neck met his skull. Which dropped him to his knees, but the lights stayed on. So Reacher swung again, this time properly right-handed, probably good enough for nothing more than a fly ball at a July Fourth picnic, but more than adequate against human biology. The guy rocked sideways and then flopped forward on his face.
Pure Mickey Spillane, as only men can appreciate, and I say that as a compliment.
Lee Child’s skill is well-known. Eleven times Jack Reacher books have topped the New York Times bestseller list.
Hollywood made a movie starring Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher (that was recently shown on cable TV), but it didn’t work. Poor casting. No amount of acting ability could transform the diminutive Tom Cruise into Jack Reacher. Size matters.
Reacher will kick a man when he’s down. Given a choice, he’ll shoot a man in the back. He can dispatch several bad guys almost as easily as one. His character borders on Superman. Although the author is British, most of the settings are in America. (Lee Child’s real name is Jim Grant, born in 1954 in Coventry.)
Like Stephen King, Child begins writing not knowing where the story will lead. When writing, “he goes into a zone in which he really believes that the nonexistent Jack Reader is temporarily existent.” Child, himself, has said, “The novels are really reportage.”
But, since high school, I have a problem with fiction of this genre. You know right from the start that there will be an unexpected twist, that things will not be as they seem. The author’s job is to provide that twist, and the more talented the author, the more we will be surprised. Lee Child is certainly talented, and we know something is coming.
Each book is self-contained, and the series follows no sequence. New Yorker author Lanchester lists the best as:
- Killing Floor
- 61 Hours
- One Shot
- Without Fail
- Bad Luck and Trouble
- Make Me
- Night School (the latest)