The Hard Way (Jack Reacher Novels) by Lee Child. Delacorte, 2006, $25, 371 pages.
FROM THE DUST JACKET:
Former MP Jack Reacher was alone, the way he liked it, soaking up the hot, electric New York City night, watching a man in a Mercedes drive away with a million dollars in ransom money. It's just an installment. The man who paid it will pay even more to get his family back. He runs a highly illegal soldiers-for-hire operation. A cash business, and he will use any amount and any tool to find his beautiful wife and child. And then he'll turn Jack Reacher loose with a vengeance -- because Reacher, an ex-military cop, is the best man hunter in the world.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
"Best yet...a straight-ahead, high octane thriller." -- The Philadelphia Inquirer "Takes off like a shot." -- New York Times
"Fans...will find themselves hanging onto their armchairs for dear life." -- Denver Post
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Formerly a British television writer, he lives in New York. Child is the author of ten Jack Reacher thrillers. His debut book, Killing Floor, won both the Anthony and the Barry Awards for Best First Mystery.
A CONVERSATION WITH THE AUTHOR:
Lee Child is the pen name of James Grant, an English expatriate living in New York. The Seattle Times has described his series character as "the thinking reader's action hero," and the New Yorker says he "ranks in the first tier." I caught up with Lee Child in Seattle, on tour for The Hard Way. "You're reading in San Diego?"
"Just did, at Warwicks," says Child, in his lovely Brit accent.
"They're excellent. You must get to a shop in La Jolla, too. D.G. Wills Books. It's an old-fashioned bookstore. Two books deep on each shelf, and with a secret room."
"Okay. I'll look for it next time."
"This is a difficult question to ask an Englishman: Would you mind bragging about your books?"
"The Hard Way is my tenth. It is number three on the New York Times list."
"How long have you lived in the U.S.?" I ask.
"Eight years. But I'd been visiting the States extensively for 42 years. My wife is American. I feel a kind of classic immigrant's enthusiasm for the country."
"You seem to prefer it over England."
"Oh, absolutely," Child exclaims. "I could not wait to get out of England."
I'm surprised at his candor. "Why?"
"Because England is a dull, boring country. I mean, it's got this sort of method operatus like any other state, but for what? It's a small place of no very great importance. So it's like having a board of directors for a candy store. It's just somehow top heavy."
Lee Child has personally promoted each of his books. "Do you still enjoy touring?"
"Oh, yeah!" he enthuses. "I mean it's a blast, really, because the rest of the year is spent in solitude. This way I get out and see some real people instead of the ones I'm making up in my head."
Child spent 18 years writing for television in England, working on major productions, and then was dismissed via a message left on his answering machine. It may have been his lucky break, as he gave himself a year to write. The book had to be successful to support his family. It was, and he went on to write nine more and sell over ten million copies, earning over 18 million dollars from worldwide sales. Yet I worry about bringing up the subject.
"Ken Follett [author of Eye of the Needle] once said that he got into writing because he blew out the tires on his car and realized he couldn't replace them. And you sort of backed into it as well. You worked in the golden age of television, in England, and, like many in the global corporate world, you were downsized and laid off."
"Yeah, that's exactly right."
"What do you make of television now in the States? Do you think it's coming back a bit with The Sopranos and Weeds and Big Love, these very ambitious programs?"
"I guess cable penetration has reached a critical mass where there's enough money available to do ambitious shows like that. So it certainly is [coming back] in the sense that it's cable leading the charge. But you've got to ask yourself, what does that say exactly? It's a sort of fragmentation of the audience -- 'narrowcasting' rather than broadcasting. Certainly we'll never see the dominance of networks again."
An interesting phenomenon has been reported in connection with Lee Child's books. Despite the Dirty Harry vigilante violence of the main character doling out frontier justice, many booksellers have noted that more women than men are buying Jack Reacher novels. And more than half the members of the Reacher Creatures fan club are female. Theories about it abound.
"Your villains are really nasty and seemingly deserving of their violent fates, and Jack readily obliges. But do you get a lot of criticism because of his violence, or maybe your own?"
"It depends. In western Europe, absolutely. In those orderly Teutonic societies like Germany and Holland and so on, they buy the books and they like the character, but they are simultaneously appalled, by the vigilantism I guess. In the U.K. and the U.S. and Australia and other slightly more rugged countries, it's remarkable how many people actually delight in the summary executions. Which strikes me as perhaps readers are taking it as a kind of metaphorical condensation of the judicial process. The other thing I've come to believe over the years is that we read fiction to get what we know we should not have in real life. We live in a gray world, where closure is so hard to get. Your house is burgled. They're not going to catch the guys, you're not going to get your stuff back, and we long for some kind of justice. We know we can't really go around executing people in vigilante mobs in real life. Our consciousness is such that we know that is not permissible. But we yearn for it, and so we find that release in fiction."