Picture this: you are 40 and supporting a family. You are fired, so you decide to write novels, even though you have zero writing experience. Sixteen years later, your 17 novels have sold more than 40 million copies; in fact, someone in the world buys one of your books every second. It sounds improbable, but that’s the trajectory Lee Child’s life took when he lost his job as a TV producer.
Just as improbable is his protagonist: a 6’ 5“, 250 pound ex-U.S. military cop named Jack Reacher. A man who can single-handedly lay six men flat without breaking a sweat, make women swoon and restore law and order in the midst of chaos.
Reacher’s appeal, one assumes, is that he is rock-solid confident in his ability to take on the world—which he does in improbable ways. Unlike most of us mortals, Reacher knows he can’t lose. No one messes with Jack Reacher. He’s a drifter and a loner. A real bad ass that kills, but like the character of Dexter in the Lindsay novels, he only kills the bad guys. Unlike a Dexter novel, however, the body count in a typical Reacher novel is in the double digits long before the end of the book.
I don’t know about other Reacher fans, but for me, he’s a bit like Eastwood’s movie character, Dirty Harry. I hated myself for liking and rooting for Dirty Harry, but I had to admit to myself that I wanted justice done. Like Harry, I knew there was only one way for that to happen. The biggest difference between the two is that Harry had to answer to the chief of police; Jack Reacher answers to no one—a character detail that will draw anyone in—especially if they spend their days cooking French fries and wearing a name badge.
Reacher carries only a toothbrush. He doesn’t deal with mortgages, lawns, cell phones, computers or any of the trappings of daily life. He doesn’t even do the laundry—just chucks his clothes every few days and buys new ones. He’s calculated that it’s cheaper that way.
Although Reacher dispatches the bad guys without remorse or second thoughts, he is a decent and noble guy and so this reader is always forgiving. Besides, he never goes looking for trouble; he just somehow stumbles into situations that require lethal force. It’s a plot device that appeals to all of us who love to rationalize. Who doesn’t daydream of being a hero, of foiling a bank robbery or a terrorist act? Of telling your boss to shove it? Perhaps we all want to be a little bit like Jack Reacher: answer to no one, have no possessions to possess us, fear nothing and never have to do the laundry again as long as we live.
Lee Child’s unplanned for and untrained for second career is truly the stuff dreams are made of. How has this extraordinary literary success affected Mr. Child? “I still dress like a slob,” he says.
I plan to say the same thing after I’ve sold more than 40 million books.
The 17th Reacher novel, A Wanted Man, picks up after the end of Worth Dying For and on sale dates are as follows (paperback sale dates are tentative and may change slightly):
UK: August 30, 2012 (hardcover & digital) – coming in paperback May 23, 2013
New Zealand: August 30, 2012 (trade paperback & digital) – coming in paperback May 23, 2013
Australia: September 3, 2012 (trade paperback & digital) – coming in paperback May 23, 2013
US & Canada: Sept 11, 2012 (hardcover & digital) – coming in paperback May 23, 2013
I have to content myself with my heroic daydreams until the 18th Reacher novel, Never Go Back, is published this fall. The tentative release date is September 3, 2013.