In early December, I decided that I wanted to spend some time reading a series of books. I’ve been reading mysteries and crime fiction for decades, and this is a genre where there are very long series, such as, for example, Robert B. Parker’s Spenser series, which ran for 40 volumes, until the death of the author. Unfortunately – and I’ll discuss this more later – his estate decided that it was worth containing novels with that character written by others. One of them was unfinished at his death, and his agent completed it, and there have been eight more since then, writing by Ace Atkins.
So I went back through the series that I enjoy, and decided to re-read Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels. I had read about a dozen of them, many years ago, but had not gone any further. So I decided to buy all of the books, a few at a time, and read them. I completed the first 23 novels (and one volume of the "complete collected short stories") in about two months, and put off reading the latest (or last) one until a few days ago. I thought that I would perhaps save that one for a time when I wanted to dip back into the character, but decided to complete the series.
What I didn’t know when I began re-reading these books is that the latest novel, Blue Moon, is the last one. Not really, though. It’s only the last one that Lee Child will write. He’s announced his retirement and is passing the series on to his brother, Andrew Grant. (Lee Child is a pen name of James Grant.) I have no real interest in reading books by a surrogate author, so I won’t be reading any more.
The Jack Reacher novels are light reads. They read quickly, and, in some cases, I was able to complete one in an evening. They are well plotted and well paced, but relatively simple in execution. Reacher is an interesting character, a man who roams, almost, as Child has said, like a knight errant. He helps damsels (and dudes) in distress, out of a code of honor that he learned in the military. He has no attachments, and never stays anywhere more than a few days, unless he’s in a novel. This is, of course, somewhat unrealistic, but it is similar to the way in westerns some stranger would come into town, then ride off into the sunset.
He’s a very big man: 6′ 5" tall, or nearly a foot taller than Tom Cruise who played him in two movies, and weighs 250 lbs. Because of this, fans of the series could not accept Cruise’s depiction, and a TV series is on the works for Amazon.
He is also a violent man, with the reptilian part of his brain often taking over. But he also has a propensity for meeting female cops – and sleeping with them – so, in spite of, or perhaps because of, his lack of fine traits, seems to make women swoon easily, even though he is often described as "ugly." But they know he won’t stay long, so his exploits – always tastefully written – are just punctuations to complex stories of crime and punishment.
The books follow Reacher after he leaves the Army, where he was an MP, and there are a couple of books that reach back to when he was still active in the military, including one which leads directly into the first book. His understanding of the military and his experience as an MP gives him a unique outlook on crime, and he is a believable character.
in the first novel, Child writes a lot in an almost Hemingwayesque style. Which he later drops. Though it comes back again at times. While that style may work with the character, it’s a bit frustrating. Another element that I find annoying – and that I skip – is the detailed descriptions of firearms, with an almost erotic discussion of their features, muzzle speeds, and deadly effects. The fight scenes are also too detailed for my taste. Some fights – often fisticuffs, rather than gun battles – run for a few pages, and I just read the first sentence of each paragraph to know what’s happening, because the details aren’t important. I do understand that some people like that stuff though.
Over 23 books, there are a few duds, but for the most part, these are top-shelf crime novels. Child’s plotting is confusing in a couple of the novels, but it’s never the type of Harlan Coben-esque plot where you think you know what’s happening, then something unexpected happens, then something else unexpected happens, and so on. I find this fatiguing; it’s almost as if the author is toying with readers. Reading a Jack Reacher novel, you know what you’re getting: a clear ethical dilemma in which honor wins. His choices are sometimes illegal, but one can understand his reasoning.
Child is very careful to make sure that Reacher’s stern morality is constantly present, but he also constantly underscores some of the character’s weaknesses, such as his total cluelessness with technology. When computers, then mobile phones, come into the story, Reacher is always fat fingered and perplexed about these devices, though eventually manages to figure them out enough to exploit them when needed, as in the final novel, Blue Moon. (It’s a minor plot point, but I won’t include spoilers.) Reacher has many quirks, some of which reflect the author’s lifestyle (he drinks as much coffee as he can) and others which, hopefully, do not (he never washes clothes, but buys new clothes every few days and throws the dirty ones away).
As series go, the Jack Reacher novels are quite strong. There are highs and lows over this many books, and rarely do people read so many in such a short time, as I did. Reading like this allows you to see the similarities that may jar during a binge, but which are reassuring when you read one a year.
If you like this sort of novel, check them out. You won’t be disappointed.