Lee Child’s Jack Reacher is back with the release earlier this month of The Midnight Line, the 22nd book in the series. The Reacher books are hugely popular, but fail to garner much in the way of critical respect. Here are five reasons why the public love Reacher and why critics should…
Reacher is without a doubt one of the most original, complex and compelling characters in crime fiction. An ex-military policeman turned drifter, he has nothing tieing him to the world except for his relentless (and almost psychopathic) desire for justice. He’s the archetypal existential avenging angel – John Wayne, Bogart and Brando rolled into one.
People often assume the books are full of gymnastic fight sequences and pyrotechnic car chases but Reacher is far closer to Sherlock Holmes than he is to James Bond. In Night School, for instance, there are approximately four pages of fighting – a total of one per cent of the novel. The joy of a Lee Child novel doesn’t consist in adrenaline-fuelled thrills but in watching Reacher’s Spock-like logic shred through the narrative.
Recently, there’s been a fad for articles in which commentators admit to loving the books but hating the prose. Child is a deliberate stylist and his prose is taut, dynamic and highly-sprung. The sentences have a rhythmic sophistication lacking in most other bestsellers and a minimalism that is highly conceptual. The opening of Without Fail is a perfect example of this: “They found out about him in July and stayed angry all through August. They tried to kill him in September. It was way too soon. They weren’t ready. The attempt was a failure. It could have been a disaster, but it was actually a miracle. Because no one noticed.” The way each sentence suggests the next mirrors the inexorable unfolding of fate and plot and plays a large part in making the books so compelling.
Lee Child’s novels ooze a sensuous, smoky Americana. Whether he’s describing grain elevators, neon signs or motel facades, Child effortlessly conjures up the stark eeriness of the American Midwest, making him the poet laureate of the prairies par excellance.
The Reacher books are Westerns in disguise and this goes a long way to explaining why they are so phenomenally popular. The books resonate with the inherent mythic compulsion of the Western genre and Reacher is the classic silent stranger who rides into town and saves the small folk from rapacious bullies. In a world spinning out of control, where no-one and everyone is the bad guy, Lee Child’s novels provide an illusory but necessary reassurance.
Lee Child and Tom Cruise attend a screening of Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (Getty)
If you’ve never read a Jack Reacher novel before, here five of the best to try…
Stav Sherez is crime novelist published by Faber & Faber. His latest novel, The Intrusions, is published in February