The frost is on the pumpkin. Dr Bronner’s 18-in-1 Pure Lavender Castile Soap Made with Organic Oils congeals white each morning, a sure sign that winter is approaching. The temperature edges below 40 degrees and the Myers Lemon has new purple buds. It’s fall, the nights are long, and it’s a good time to read scary books.
I don’t mean vampire scary or ghost in the woods scary. I mean Lee Child scary, books like Killing Floor and Die Trying, books where bullets fly and often hit things, loyalties are tested, and the hero always wins. Books like that. Books by a British TV writer turned New York thriller author.
When the sun shines there are things to do. When the sun goes down, around here it’s readin’ time.
Lee Child has a formula and he repeats it from book to book. There is a predictability to the mayhem, just as predictable as the Pachelbel Canon at a Mendocino wedding.
Hero Jack Reacher echoes John Wayne, down to his repeatedly stale, old-fashioned relationships with women. You know he’s going to survive. After all, he has to appear in another dozen books. But you still worry maybe this time his captivity, torture, mistreatment, misdirection, bullet wounds, chain whipping and so on will be his last. No, it won’t. He will survive.
You’d think these books would pall, that you’d stop midway and ask yourself: Don’t I have better things to do? Why am I wasting my time with these gory things? But you don’t stop, because Lee Child is a master of this kind of writing. You think ahead and try to guess what’s coming next. You spend serious moments pondering who is loyal and who bent.
These books are long – the first three in the series run more than 500 pages each – and I read each one in a burst of enthusiasm. I pretty much used every spare moment to find out how Jack Reacher would get out of the next situation, how he would dispense frontier justice, how he would say sayonora to the inevitable love interest.
At one point in Die Trying, which is the second Jack Reacher novel in a line that stretches to 17 so far, at one point I put the book down in despair. Oh not again – these bad guys are militia-nuts super-patriotically holed up in Montana with a roomfull of old dynamite and a warehouse full of guns and missiles? I care about this?
I sighed – I don’t care if they wear shiny black boots, I don’t care about their back story – I don’t want to spend time with these characters – I sighed, then dove back into the book and didn’t put it down until 2 in the morning. Die Trying and Killing Floor and Tripwire – they are that absorbing, that well done.
Lee Child readers don’t much care that the plots are hackneyed and the characters stiff. We enjoy the sudden squeeze of fickle fate, the surprise, the joy of puzzles that slowly resolve.
In anything approaching real life I would recoil from visions of heads exploding, ingenious tortures, quasi-military confrontations, all of that. In a Lee Child adventure the violence is there to entertain– the artificiality is what allows a weak-kneed pacifist such as me to stumble forward through the gore. The final confrontation feels like the final innings of a good World Series game – one team wins and the other loses – burned to death in an exploding warehouse stuffed with dollar bills, say.
Jack Reacher hitch-hikes away from his latest adventure. He’s not seeking trouble, but trouble seeks him, book after book after book. Lee Child grabs you where it hurts and you’ll stay grabbled for at least a couple of days of intense reading.
And that’s a good thing, when the nights are long and the days are cold.
You don’t have to read these Jack Reacher novels in order, but it’s more fun that way. The first three:
Killing Floor by Lee Child. Penguin paperback $9.99. ISBN 9780515141429.
Die Trying by Lee Child. Penguin paperback $9.99. ISBN 9780515142242.
Tripwire by Lee Child. Penguin paperback $9.99. ISBN 9780515143072.
Lee Child has an extensive website. These three pages will tell you more than you need to know:
FAQ... The Books... About the Author...