Lee Child: creating Jack Reacher

24/07/2011 by Barry Forshaw

The fact that Lee Child bagged the Theakston's Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year in Harrogate for his thriller 61 Hours (published, as usual, by Transworld) should offer the author some good cheer.

The tall and charming Child has long enjoyed phenomenal sales (and a truly devoted readership) for his irresistibly page-turning Jack Reacher novels, but Child's bête noire – one that really rankles him – is the low esteem in which he feels that crime and thriller writers are held, and the recognition of this prize no doubt means as much to him as the unconditional love of his legion of admirers.

The fact that he followed P.D. James onto the stage to receive his bauble (the Baroness had won a lifetime achievement award) would made the occasion even more delicious for him.

Since the Coventry-born Child inaugurated his series of kinetic and compelling thrillers, he has maintained an unfaltering standard of excellence. Killing Floor (1997) had Jack being 'let go' by an ungrateful military (just as his creator had been dispensed with in another field), and soon finding himself up to his neck in trouble in the town of Margrave, Georgia, arrested for a murder he didn't commit (and not for the last time).

Die Trying in 1998 kept up the momentum, and by the time of The Enemy (2005) we were afforded a glimpse of Jack in the army, as duty military police officer on a South Carolina base involved in the murder of a general.

But perhaps Child's gifts found their finest flowering in 2002's Echo Burning. As ever, locales and characters were shot through with a pithy sense of the American landscape (Child now lives in New York, so it's easier for him to get things right – and nothing gives him more pleasure than to be told by American readers that they were convinced that his novels were written by someone from their own country).

Ex-military policeman Reacher, at a loose end (as so often), finds himself in Texas and hitches a ride with a striking young woman – a ride that will have very dangerous consequences for him. It's an eventful journey – for both Jack and the reader.

Lee Child (who was born in 1954) saw his media career terminated by enforced redundancy, obliging him to do something that proved to be his true métier: writing pared-to-the-bone thrillers set in his adoptive country, America. Child's masterstroke was the creation of one of the truly iconic thriller characters, the durable (and physically imposing) Jack Reacher, whose inability to settle in one place has him getting into lethal trouble in one new town after another.

A superhero in all but name (though Child dislikes the adjective 'invulnerable' for his frequently beleaguered protagonist), Reacher has become a favourite of readers of both sexes: the kind of man other men want to be, and the kind of man women want to go to bed with – it's a cause of regret for many people that Jack exists only on the printed page...as yet, that is – a film franchise is in the offing, but is it really to be the diminutive Tom Cruise as Child's lanky protagonist?

 

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