I have to admit, I only picked up this book because it was the first in the series of Jack Reacher novels. And I had watched the film and loved it. I thought I had outgrown this genre of novel, having subsisted on an diet comprising Robert Ludlum (not the ghost-written rubbish) and Arthur Hailey and the like, for a large chunk of my teenage years. Both the authors, especially Hailey, wrote well, and wrote gripping tales with a great deal of sadness and loss woven into the violence and action. I was tired of it. I think the last one I read was Arthur Hailey’s Strong Medicine, and I had had enough of gritty, complex thrillers.
Author: Lee Child
Story: Jack Reacher is an ex-military policeman, jobless and roaming America driven largely by whims. He alights from a bus at Margave, Georgia, again on a whim, and decides to have breakfast at a cafe. In a matter of hours from his arrival in the small, sleepy town, he is arrested for murder.
He is innocent, but spends a weekend in prison with another man. When he is almost killed in a clearly staged prison execution, he gets out angry and wanting answers. His weekend cellmate disappears, but leaves behind more questions than answers. Reacher knows something big is going down in the small town, but he has no idea what.
Writing: The writing is in first-person, so there is no information the reader has that Reacher doesn’t have. It is an interesting perspective for me, because I haven’t often read first person narratives. The scene is unfolding in front of my eyes, and all Reacher’s back story is contained in his thoughts. Fascinating!
Secondly, the sentences were in short staccato bursts. Fragments and clauses in punchy adjective-noun pairings. (<- Like this one.) It made so much sense because it mirrors a person’s thought. Who thinks in full sentences anyway? I found myself devouring pages and pages of the book at a rapid clip.
Characters: Jack Reacher is a tough, intelligent, salt-of-the-earth protagonist, who is fair and loyal, but not sweet or nice. He appears to be good-looking, doesn’t discriminate, and is a pin up for both boys and girls alike. He is the hero. Plain and simple. But he is also human, and prone to mistakes. What he isn’t is depressed, moody, alcoholic, generally plagued with nightmares and moralistic morasses. Whew. After the Bourne series, I was done with that sort of broodiness.
Pace: There is action on every single page. There are twists that are unexpected, but since you are following along with the story in Jack Reacher’s mind, you can see how things unfold. He reaches the same conclusions you have, because you have the same information he has. I loved the fact that Child doesn’t assume an idiot will read his novel. Early on, the first murder victim was kicked around by a maniac. Reacher doesn’t know who this maniac is; but he finds out eventually. It is a dawning realisation of putting pieces together logically, but the conclusion isn’t spelled out at all. You only know he knows when he sees the same man come after him, and he thinks about how this maniac kicked around the victim. Brilliant stuff.
Conclusion: Loved the book, and now want to read the whole series. I was under the impression that I had lost my taste for thrillers, but I haven’t. I am just tired of the grittiness in all the others. I like this one very much indeed.