Lee Child’s iconic ex-cop Jack Reacher first appeared way back in 1997 in the novel Killing Floor, since then returning in nineteen further novels and a 2012 movie, with a second movie and a new novel due for release in 2016. Rewind to 1997 and Killing Floor was the debut novel from the British author, introducing Jack Reacher as a drifter, ex-military police, rambling through America only to find himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. Passing through an anonymous backwater town he’s arrested for murder – at first interested only in proving his innocence, he soon ends up entangled in a surprisingly personal mystery.
Let’s be clear right from the outset – this is all about plot, and not a lot else. Child deliberately focuses on this almost to the exclusion of all else, with short, snappy sentences, a stark absence of extraneous detail and a fierce determination to keep events moving forward throughout a chunky 500+ pages. Such terse writing is surprisingly effective, even if the short sentences – sometimes as brief as four or five words, even – occasionally grate, and it does exactly what it should, which is keep the reader hooked and turning the pages.
As a character, Reacher is basically a superhero. He’s hard as nails, and has phenomenal skills as a result of his military training and experience – in other words he’s basically James Bond turned up to ten. It’s male wish fulfilment at its simplest, which really shouldn’t work…but somehow it does. He’s instantly engaging, perhaps due to being written in such a matter of fact manner, and riding in his head is just switch-your-brain-off enjoyment. There’s almost no real development of his character as the book progresses, but that doesn’t really matter as he’s one of those characters that seems fully-drawn the minute you read about him.
That’s all testament to Child’s skill, both at character creation and at plotting. This has twists and turns aplenty, as you’d expect, and an enjoyably slow reveal of what’s really going on behind the peaceful, respectable veneer of small-town Americana. It sometimes feels a little predictable, but there’s enough excitement for that not to matter, and the pace is such that you’re just swept up in the onrushing story. This is escapism at its purest, with no frills and no pretensions. Child clearly isn’t aiming for grand literary heights, instead focusing on giving us, the readers, what we want from this sort of book. Almost twenty years later, one thing’s clear – people love Jack Reacher. He’s got one more convert here, for sure.