Saturday, March 15, 2008

Lee Child

A quick search suggests to me that I haven't posted about Lee Child yet. How is this possible? I am a slavish fan of the guy. Child is a writer of thrillers starring Jack Reacher, a drifter and ex-military-policeman who possesses near-superhuman investigating, shooting, and fighting skills. A typical plot: Reacher is minding his own business in one or another American city--generally drinking coffee or walking down the street--when he suddenly gets swept up in some apparently random crime that ultimately proves to be the first hint of some massive and sinister plot. Or, in another common scenario, the military ferrets him out because he's the only guy they know of who can accomplish some incredibly dangerous and complicated task. Since Reacher has no phone and no address, he has to be tracked down in clever ways--for instance, by depositing an amount of money in his bank account, the amount of which corresponds to some code that only Reacher will recognize.

If this all sounds incredibly dumb, I'm not going to argue with you. But Lee Child is an awesome writer, and he plots these books with such stunning, austere skill that you are willing to fogive him any and all implausibilities. Reacher is a great character, too--tough, intelligent, and highly moral. There's always a girl to bed, of course, and sometimes it's a girl in danger--but invariably the girl is an FBI agent, military officer, or other badass, and at some point she gets the opportunity to snap some Russian mobster's neck or break somebody's wrist with her boot. The heronies of these books end up protecting Reacher as much as they protect him. Later, they like getting it on with him but don't complain when he hits the road--they're no more sentimental than he is.

I think my favorite of the bunch is One Shot, wherein Reacher is supposed to find the cracks in the most airtight murder investigation ever. Child seals up the case so completely that you can't even begin to believe it will ever be broken, and when it is (just as the back flap promised), you can't believe you didn't see it all along. I also like Without Fail, where the Vice-President-elect is being targeted by assassins, and Reacher is called in to find the holes in the Secret Service's plan to protect him.

Child's prose style is declarative, practical, and tough, just like his hero; he is never prone to the kind of cute indulgences most crime writers fall victim to. There's no philosophizing, no gratuitous soundtrack, and no brand names. Chicago is never about to be blown up by terrorists, and there are no genius serial killers who taunt the cops. Child is British, but he is masterful at portraying the blankness of the American landscape; he has his cultural debris down cold. The books are pure escapism, so you won't feel proud of yourself when you're done reading them--all you'll want to do is read another one.

OK, back to the Shakespeare...

8 comments:

rmellis said...

Hm, you've almost convinced me to read them...

jrlennon said...

You'll like Reacher. He's hawt.

rmellis said...

Does he look like George Clooney?

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Mr. Saflo said...

I tried reading Killing Floor a year or so ago and only got 100+ pages in before putting it down. Sloppy, sloppy writing. I understand his newer ones are basically streamlined but I don't know if I'll go back and finish that one anytime soon.

I do like the bullseye cover designs, though.

jrlennon said...

I agree that one sucks. It's a shame you went for it first...

jrlennon said...

Or wait maybe it's Tripwire I don't like? Anyway, he hit his stride around book 4.

James said...

I don't know. I read Running Blind on the recommendation of a friend. Not only did I find the plot preposterous (especially the "big reveal," but that was just the biggest "oh, come on" moment of many), but I started to skim over the text about half way through the book. Instinct is a good barometer for reading pleasure that I try not to ignore. If I'm not giving a book my full attention the first time I read it, I'm not enjoying it. (Even though I sometimes try to tell myself otherwise, especially with mysteries, for some half-realized demand to "know the solution.")

That's just my bias, though. I'm generally prefer crime fiction of the George Pelacanos variety.