Lee Child has sold over 100 million books which have been translated into over 40 languages, and if you are familiar with his work an introduction to his Jack Reacher novels will not be necessary.
They appear like clockwork on an annual basis and his latest, “Past tense”, was published earlier this year. Fans will have devoured it already and anxiously await a new story in 2019.
Jack Reacher was a military policeman for some 13 years and for longer than that he has been travelling around the U.S.
He is the ultimate light traveller: no extra charges for him on Ryanair-type budget airlines because he carries only a folding toothbrush and a bankcard to dip into his pension payments.
Anyway, he travels by hitchhiking on roads. He clothes are the ones he wears and new ones are purchased as and when necessary.
There are two plot lines in “Past tense”. In one, finding himself in the town that had been home to his father and grandfather, Jack Reacher begins a search for the family home but cannot find any record of a Reacher ever having lived in the town. He sets out to solve this mystery. The second plot involves a young couple whose car breaks down and, when they seek help in a remotely situated motel, find themselves being kept as prisoners for some unknown but sinister purpose.
You know that the two plots will eventually overlap and the prose moves forward to this end as purposively as the walking pace (always four miles an hour) of the central character himself.
The reader trusts Jack Reacher and secretly wants to be like him: he is big and strong, a good man but not averse to extreme violence when dealing with nasty baddies.
Fully autonomous, he owns himself but has a habit of finding himself in troublesome situations, through no fault of his own, and is called upon to extricate himself before he can continue his travelling.
The appeal of Jack Reacher is partly but not only macho in spirit. When the young woman who had been kept prisoner in a motel finds an opportunity to fight back, she is said to draw on deep reserves of self-preservation:
Primeval feelings. Much stronger than she expected. Some were simple software downloads. Dusty old how-to manuals, left behind from savage eras deep in prehistory.
She absorbed them all, and they gave her animal grace, and strength, and speed, and cunning, and ferocity, plus some kind of serene human abandon over the top of it all, that made her surrender to instinct completely.
It allows her to pummel her assailant to death and the reader is with her all the way. Sadism doesn’t come into it.
She doesn’t wish to hurt anyone but when threatened she fights back. This is Jack Reacher’s philosophy and the reader identifies with it all the way down.
“Past tense”, by Lee Child is published by Bantam.