Posted by Justine Solomons on November 5, 2012, in Recommendations
British-born Lee Child is now one of the world’s most successful thriller writers, his Jack Reacher books having been translated into 40 languages, with a big budget film on the way (starring Tom Cruise, who many fans think is woefully miscast as the 6 foot 5 ex-military cop). A Wanted Man sees eternal wanderer Reacher getting caught up in a major conspiracy when he hitches a ride with the wrong people – though of course, this being Jack Reacher, the bad guys have taken on more than they bargained for…
While it’s easy to dismiss Jack Reacher as simply a male fantasy writ large – women want him, men want to be him, blah blah blah – Child’s skill as a writer is that he takes a character who could be simply a cliché and makes him compelling and interesting. Yes, Reacher is hard as nails, but he’s not invincible, and he’s not flawless (one of his main characteristics is a totally honest appraisal of his own strengths and weaknesses – so, for instance, he’s a lousy driver, he can’t run fast, and when he has to steal a car to keep his cover, he’s worse than useless). He’s also no James Bond, bedding a beauty in every town: though there’s always some flirtation going on, he doesn’t always get the girl. Plus, Child’s women always feel like fully rounded characters: these aren’t simpering victims or kick ass bombshells, they are capable, bright women, most often cops or military, whom Reacher treats with professional respect.
Child’s style is deceptively simple: short sentences and lots of action, all grounded in enough research to give the books a sense of veracity – but you only have to read a bad thriller to see how difficult it is to make writing look this easy. A Wanted Man follows this established formula, with a plot you think you can figure out but which ends up far more twisted than you’d imagine, characters to root for and a satisfying, action-filled denouement. Given that there’s no major arc to these books, you don’t need to be familiar with the series to enjoy it and it works perfectly well as a standalone story (though if you want to read them in order, the first is Killing Floor). Fans will need no encouragement to buy this, but if you haven’t yet met Jack Reacher, you’re in for a hell of ride.