While I’ve been aware of Lee Child’s best-selling Jack Reacher novels for a while, I hadn’t really cracked the cover of one until I heard there was a movie based on the series headed our way. Being the guy who has to read the book first, I headed out to the local library and picked up the first novel, Killing Floor, assuming that the movie series would start with the first novel in the series.
That’s what I get for assuming. Turns out that Reacher, like the Bond movies, has decided not to start with the first published novel in the series, but with the ninth novel One Shot. After reading both One Shot and The Killing Floor, I think this is a pretty good idea. As an introductory novel, The Killing Floor is OK, but it’s not great. Having just been released from the Army after 13 years of service, Jack Reacher is wandering the country by bus. On a whim, he decides to visit a small town in Georgia to look in on his younger brother and soon finds himself embroiled in a conspiracy.
The first novel is a good one, but a lot of it depends on coincidence. Reacher happens to wander into vital information and situations at just the right time. This works the first time or two it happens, but I found myself rolling my eyes a bit as it kept occurring through the entire run of the novel.
And so it was that after reading the first Reacher, I jumped forward to the ninth novel, One Shot so I could do the inevitable comparing the book to the movie when I see it. As an action thriller novel, One Shot works extremely well. When a sniper goes on a killing spree, the prime suspect has only one request–find Jack Reacher. Turns out our accused sniper was trained by the military for this exact purpose and had a run in with Reacher as an MP. Reacher arrives on the scene and starts investigating, once again finding there’s more here than meets the eye. There’s too much evidence pointing to our main suspect, which Reacher finds suspicious. There’s also a conspiracy in play and Reacher kicking a lot of tail on various people who make the mistake of crossing him.
As the outline for an action film, I can see why Hollywood would choose this one first. It’s got a good build-up to Reacher arriving on the scene and it’s got some good action moments for the character. It shows him as a man of action/detective of sorts, all while pulling in Reacher’s past and previous experience. I’ll even admit that the first trailer for the film had me hopeful because it looked fairly faithful to the source material, especially the last 30 or so seconds with the big brawl in the street.
That said, I just can’t quite understand why Tom Cruise was cast as Jack Reacher. (OK, I get it–the guy is a box office draw). If you’ve read the novels, you know that Reacher is a tall, imposing man who uses that to his advantage to impose his will upon people. I know that Hollywood can’t always cast a character just as he or she originally is described in a novel, but surely they could come a bit closer than Tom Cruise. Interestingly as I waited for The Hobbit to start last weekend, there was a extended sneak peek at Jack Reacher with author Lee Child extolling that Cruise is a good Reacher. My first thought was, of course he’s not going to tear down the casting choice saying “Boy, they sure blew it on this one.” That won’t encourage your faithful audience to head out and see the film now then will it?*
*That is, unless you’re Clive Cussler, who famously was not a huge fan of what they did to Sahara, thus killing the potential Dirk Pitt franchise.
After One Shot, I was significantly intrigued enough to want to read more of the adventures of Reacher. So, I sought out the second novel in the series, Die Trying. Reacher is in the wrong place at the wrong time and gets pulled into a vortex when he tries to help a woman out on the street. I have to admit of the five novels I’ve read in the series so far, this is my least favorite. It just didn’t quite grab my attention and hold me the way three of the five novels in the series have.
Next up, I jumped ahead to The Affair. It’s the sixteenth novel in the series but one that cycles back to the time before The Killing Floor and details the events that led to Reacher leaving the Army. In Carter Crossing, Mississippi, a small town next to an Army base, a local woman has been killed. Reacher is assigned to go into the town undercover and cozy up to the local law enforcement to find out what they know. However, the sheriff is an ex-Marine MP and sees Reacher coming a mile away. She allows him to stay around and begin to investigate things, soon finding a pattern to events taking place in the town. It all adds up to (wait for it ) another conspiracy and Reacher being caught in the cross-hairs.
I’ll admit The Affair works a lot better as an introduction to Reacher than the first two novels did. Reading the books, I keep finding myself comparing the character to that of Bond–he’s a man’s man that all women seem to find irresistible. He also has some eccentricities that are repeated in each novel (or so it seems). He doesn’t use toothpaste, instead always opting for a fold-up toothbrush and mints. (Reacher loves his fold-up toothbrush, to the point that you’d think it was the greatest thing since sliced bread). He travels light, often washing the same set of clothes in the hotel sink multiple times per book (and he gets all the ladies, how again?). He also doesn’t believe in settling in any one place for any length of time.
Which is why the third novel in the series struck me as a bit odd. Tripwire stars off with Reacher digging pools in Key West. When a PI shows up looking for him, Reacher denies who he is and the detective gets killed. Curious as to why finding him cost the PI his life, Reacher begins digging around and heads to New York to find the elusive Mrs. Jacobs who hired the PI. Turns out Mrs. Jacobs is Jody Garber Jacobs, divorced attorney and daughter of his former CO. The CO has just passed away and Reacher was like a son to him. It also turns out that Jody pined for Reacher when she was 15 and Reacher always wondered what might have been had she been a bit older. (There’s a nine year gap in their age). After a quarter of the novel is spent fraught with sexual tension between the two, they finally admit they’re hot for each other, have been for years and begin hooking up. They also look into a situation her father was examining when he died involving a guy with a hook for a hand, scars on his face and a connection to an MIA Vietnam vet.
Tripwire works well because it has an interesting adversary for Reacher. Hobie Hook is menacing in that Bond villain kind of way and I could honestly see the book translating well to a second film should the first one prove successful. Hobie chews scenery with the best of them and his plan to bilk a rich guy out of his company is an interesting one. Of course, a lot of the book would have to be set somewhere else since, unnervingly, Hobie’s office is on the 88th floor of the Twin Towers. (The book was written well before Sept. 11th).
It’s also in Tripwire that Reacher is at his most Bond-like. At one point he gets shot in the chest only to survive because his pecs are so strong the bullet simply couldn’t get to his heart.
Of course, it’s also interesting to see that Reacher is left the house of his former CO in the novel and elects to remain near Jody as the book ends. Considering she’s not on the scene by the time we reach One Shot, I can only assume she exits the series at some point. I just hope she doesn’t meet the same fate as Tracy Bond…
So far, I like the Reacher novels. They’re not great literature, but they’re fun, entertaining action adventures stories that when they’re good, keep the pages turning. I’ll be interested to see how the movie does and if that will drive audiences to the books. I also plan to try and continue reading more of the adventures of Jack Reacher, if only because I’m curious as to what happens to Jody and why, if she’s the great love of Reacher’s life, she vanishes from the series.