It started in Pasadena, in a bookstore. I was only looking for some cheap, vicarious thrills. I handed over my $10 bill and walked out with my book in a bag; it had the name Lee Child on the spine. Now I am a socially dysfunctional misfit. I crave my next hit. I can't go anywhere without one of the Jack Reacher series. I may become a rootless wanderer, criss-crossing the mean streets of America, packing only an ATM card and a detachable toothbrush, buying my clothes at hardware stores.
One of these days, Reacher – Child's utterly addictive hero – is going to get me into serious trouble. Unlike him, I am not a 6ft 5in ex-military cop and virtuoso in unarmed combat. Nevertheless, I now tend to go around growling things such as: "You've got two ways out of here. You can walk out or they can carry you out in a bucket."
In Nothing to Lose, Child's 12th Reacher novel, he is as cool as a cucumber when it comes to dealing with six hairy hombres in a bar, and soft-hearted enough to go and check up on them in the infirmary. He follows in the great Philip Marlowe pulp tradition, nuanced with a dash of Rambo and Bruce Willis. There is a hint of Bob Dylan and Easy Rider in the way he drifts from town to town, kicking over stones with crime, corruption, and cold-hearted killing beneath them. In this latest adventure, he runs up against a born-again businessman impatient for apocalypse, and some very toxic side effects of war in the Middle East. Child's women, who find Reacher and his scars irresistible, are almost as tough and appealingly existential as he is.
Not only does Child get his hero back on the road after every encounter, violent or erotic, he gives you a detailed description of the road, and a brief history. A British writer, he has finessed the American tough-guy vernacular, investing it with a subtly global inflection. Reacher speaks French, quotes Nietzsche, and is apt to come out with the etymology of "vagrant" and "Xerox".
I suspect that if you ran a word-frequency check on Child's work, "alone" would come out high. Reacher is a moody, modern outsider figure, one of the great anti-heroes. He is anti-capitalism, anti-materialism, anti-religion, with a fondness for anarchy and revolution: a liberal intellectual with machismo, and arms the size of Popeye's.
Andy Martin teaches French at Cambridge University and writes books about surfing
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