Lee Child’s Jack Reacher: 8 reasons the books are classics

Leigh Turner
Leigh Turner

Lee Child’s Jack Reacher thrillers are best sellers.  Here’s what makes people buy them by the million.  Great characters – not only Jack Reacher but fine women and minor characters. Great jokes. Crackling dialogue, Satisfying problem-solving. Wisdom.  Let’s take a closer look.

If you like thrillers, it’s worth putting Lee Child’s Jack Reacher thrillers on your list of “best books to read” (and consider also my thrillers “Blood Summit” and “Palladium“).

Meet Lee Child’s Jack Reacher

Burly, yet brilliant.  Violent, yet sensitive to the needs of women.  Loyal to friends, yet indifferent to relationships.

Jack Reacher, hero of Lee Child’s thriller series, is an ex military policeman with terrific characteristics.

Lee Child's Jack Reacher novel The Affair

“The Affair” is excellent

How I got hooked

I’ve been a Jack Reacher fan since reading my first Lee Child novel, “Tripwire” (Jack Reacher 3), over a decade ago.  That book features a cunning plot; extreme violence; and a powerful, satisfying resolution.

Child has published two dozen Jack Reacher novels, one a year since 1997.  They are hugely successful: “Blue Moon” (no.24 in the series, published in 2019), for example, has over 9,000 reviews on Amazon.com and over 8,500 on Amazon.co.uk.

8 reasons people love Jack Reacher

Here are 8 reasons why people love Jack Reacher.

Consistency

(i) The early novels are consistently good.  In addition to “Tripwire” I enjoyed, for example, “Killing Floor” (JR1: crisp, authoritative writing and richly textured, eg Reacher’s quest to find legendary guitar player Blind Blake), “Die Trying” (JR2);  “The Visitor” (JR4: an original, creepy and tricky mystery which Reacher struggles to solve); “Echo Burning” (JR5: strong, complex plot); and “Without Fail” (JR6).

Great women

(ii) I particularly like the enigmatic Frances Neagley, a female equivalent of Reacher who is if anything even cooler and tougher than he is and also features in “Bad Luck and Trouble” (JR11); “The Enemy” (JR8); and “The Affair” (JR16).  I also liked the improbably beautiful Elizabeth Deveraux in “The Affair”, with her remarkable appetite:

The grease from the meat made her lips glisten.  She was a slim woman.  She must have had a metabolism like a nuclear reactor.

Humor/Humour

(iii) In some novels, eg “The Enemy”, Reacher displays dry, ironic humour (US readers: apologies for my UK spelling tendencies), particularly in displaying insubordination.  When asked “Where did he have the heart attack?”, Reacher replies “In his chest cavity”.

Dialogue

(iv)  I find the dialogue in many of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher books outstanding.  Take this, between Reacher and Deveraux, after sex, in “The Affair” (Reacher is narrating):

Afterwards Deveraux yawned and stretched and said, ‘You’re not bad for a soldier boy.’

I said, ‘You’re excellent for a Marine.’

‘We’d better be careful.  We might develop feelings for each other.’

‘What are those?’

‘What are what?’

‘Feelings.’

She paused a beat.

She said, ‘Men should be more in touch with their feelings.’

I said, ‘If I ever have one, you’ll be the first to know, I promise.’

She paused, again.  Then she laughed.

Jack Reacher: later works

(v) Some of Lee Child’s later works are again excellent.  I recently read “The Affair”  (Reacher 16) which re-introduces not only Neagley but also Reacher’s sense of humour;

Minor characters

(vi) Lee Child also writes some terrific male minor characters, such as military men Leon Garber and Stan Lowrey, of whom Reacher, narrating the story, gives this splendid account.

I leaned on the wall next to the phone… because Lowrey’s stories were usually very long.  He fancied himself a raconteur.  And he liked background.  And context.  Deep background, and deep context.  Normally he liked to trace everything back to a seminal point just before random swirls of gas from the chartless wastes of the universe happened to get together and form the earth itself.

Duncan Munro

In addition to Garber and Lowrey, I particularly like Major Duncan Munro, another military policeman, who delivers some splendid one-liners, such as this exchange, as Reacher explains why he wanted to keep certain information secret:

[Reacher:] ‘I wanted Munro to go back to Germany with a clear conscience.’

Munro said, ‘My conscience is always clear.’

‘But it’s easier to play dumb if you really don’t know the answer.’

‘I never had a problem playing dumb.  Some folks think I am.’

This exchange, where Munro actually gets the better of Reacher, is reminiscent of the famous “Does your dog bite?” exchange between Peter Sellers, as Inspector Clouseau, and a hotel receptionist in the 1976 film “The Pink Panther Strikes Again”.  Here, too, the hotel receptionist has better lines than Peter Sellers.

Jack Reacher’s intuition

(vii) Jack Reacher has an almost Holmesian ability to infer events from invisible clues as he, for example, reconstructs the murder of Janice May Chapman in “The Affair”.

Jack Reacher epigrams

(viii) Finally, Reacher has plenty of good one-liners and epigrams, eg:

I didn’t like him much.  A snap judgement, maybe, but generally those are as good as any other kind.

Lee Child’s Jack Reacher: Nothing is perfect

Is there a down side to Jack Reacher?  Personally, I think some of the middle and later novels are less good than others.  My least favourites include “Bad Luck and Trouble” (JR11) and “Nothing to Lose” (JR12), where Reacher’s fine sense of humour seems to have been excised.  I found “61 Hours” (JR14) slow-moving.  But things picked up with “Worth Dying For” (JR15).  “The Affair” (JR16) is so good it inspired me to write this blog.

My advice: if you like thrillers and want to sample Lee Child, try some of the earlier books listed above.  If you are a fan but have been deterred by some of the less compelling tales in the series, keep reading!

For: solid thrillers with a hero saved from caricature by his great sense of humour (more humour in future episodes, please, Mr Child)

Against: in those books low on humour, Jack Reacher is less entertaining.

Like thrillers? Try my Berlin thriller Blood Summit. John Connolly, author of the Charlie Parker thrillers, described it as “Hugely entertaining“. Just click on the cover!

Blood Summit by Leigh Turner

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9 Responses

  1. The new “Reacher” Amazon thriller series gets it all right especially in the casting. Lee Child has crafted a pretty much perfect literary character in Jack Reacher who reflects both ancient antecedents and modern masculine outlook. His Asian forbears are not only the Japanese samurai but also possibly Hindu gods and goddesses.

    There is Durga, protector of the innocent. Though she is feminine, she is superhuman when it is needed as a centuries old sacred law enforcement officer. In beefing up “The Killing Field,” in “Reacher”, Jack Reacher has feminine counterpart buddy from a later novel, who seems the embodiment of an American Durga. And Reacher seems like Arjun, a fierce warrior, who represents Courage, Strength, Humility, Intelligence and Wisdom.

    Something similar to what happens in “Reacher,” also happens in the 2012 classic Hindi language thriller, “Kahanni”, co-written, co-produced and co-directed by Bengali film director, Sujoy Ghosh. A pregnant woman named Vidya gets off a plane in Kolkata and rents a small flat in a bland part of the city. She finds herself in the middle of something brutally bad (that already resulted in the death of a family member), going on during a religious festival. Jack Reacher gets off a bus where really bad people are doing horrible things in a more rural environment.

    Yet Child brilliantly renders the old epic characteristics into a modern vernacular within a small town suburban environment. Old and new clash. And this includes new and old masculine and feminine attitudes. Male physical superiority is considered a freak thing as female physical superiority is considered even twice as freaky.

    But in “The Killing Field” and “Reacher” there are moments that though of different anatomy, two heroic souls seem to have similarities of purpose and Child and the screenwriters makes this seem so natural though not really all of the story. Although the series is not a feminist or hyper masculine conversation per se, what’s felt and thought is succinctly expressed sometimes through anger, violent action or reaction or even random acts of tenderness. Yet, so much off hand gender complexity is posed and somewhat deciphered through a simple story of short handed good versus massive colossal evil.

    Most readers and viewers will take it as a solid thriller. But more literary readers will see a consummate character take apart some of the weaknesses and vulnerabilities of a troubled society. There may be heightened exaggeration or extreme conflict, yet if brilliantly bolstered by deft and pertinent details, it becomes all to easy to recognize instances and similarities of plain hard unavoidable truth.

    “Reacher” is one of the best streaming episodic thrillers ever made that does complete justice and more to “The Killing Field”. And to think there are 25 additional books like it, as if Charles Dickens wrote brutal thrillers in a superficially more gentle yet patently very violent earlier time.

  2. Apologies for being off point concerning 8 reasons people love Jack Reacher. These are all excellent very insightful and true reasons and these people include some 100 per cent first class writers. Since really perceptive and keenly observant writers usually offer the best writing advice, I signed up for your newsletters and will be reading “Blood Summit.”

  3. I totally love “Nothing To Lose” because of it’s raw and anti-glamour description of the town Despair.
    It might also have to do with the fact that “Nothing To Lose” was my first Reacher book.

    But I agree that some of the books have a wonderful sence of humour.
    For example, the description of the start of a trip in a old Ford Bronco.
    Extremely funny.

    Greetings from Sweden

    //Tompa

    1. Thanks Tompa and great to hear from a fellow Reacher fan. There’s definitely something about that first book – mine was “Tripwire”. The books with less humour are simply less excellent, in my view!

  4. The first book makes You often flla in love with an author or a series of books.

    And it makes one never forget that first book.

    By the way…

    Does any one here have any idea what towns in Colorado that was model for Hope and Despair?

    Or are they just imaginary?

    Sunny greetings from Sweden//Tompa

  5. I’m also very curious on what place he have based Mother’s Rest upon, and some other places as well.

    If we found out, we could put together a sort of travellers guide to Reacher’s places.

    Dark evening greetings from Sweden//Tompa

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