|US cover, left; UK cover, right.|
It may not be well known that a huge proportion of Lee Child's readers of his Jack Reacher series (called "manbooks" in one recent review) are women. But it's true. In fact, the most spirited discussions I've had of Jack Reacher's personality, physical appearance, and actions -- especially in the context of the recently released film that placed Tom Cruise in Jack Reacher's shoes -- have been with a woman reader who lives about ten miles from here. Petite, immaculately groomed, highly educated, she latches onto, enjoys, and reconsiders every one of Lee Child's thrillers that feature the big tough former MP as he interferes in malicious crime and asserts his own form of justice.
Why do women connect with Jack Reacher so intensely? I hope a few of you will consider commenting to share your own view. Mine is: Jack Reacher is the "me" that I'll never become, but would like to think lives at the core of me: competent, independent, reluctant to hurt others if it's not necessary but ready to do so (in the most effective way) if it's necessary to defend the people I care about.
And that is the conundrum of Reacher, one vividly portrayed in A WANTED MAN (US release Sept. 2012): He's the last person you'd want to pick up when he's hitchhiking, especially as this book opens -- he's got a broken nose, swollen grotesquely and patched temporarily with a makeshift bandage of silvery duct tape. In fact, you've got to wonder why a car with three passenger already -- two guys and, in the back seat, a nearly silent woman -- would stop to give him a ride in the middle of the night, at an interstate highway cloverleaf.
Except, of course, that as readers, we already suspect the people in the car have something to do with a vicious killing we've already "heard about." But Reacher doesn't know that ... and as he starts to tune in to how dangerous the two men are who've taken him into their car, he's also wondering what Karen Delfuesco is doing in that back seat, and gradually realizing her courage and initiative.
There we are, back in the classic Reacher grab-your-heart situation: He's a walking weapon of mass destruction, even when unarmed. But he's also quick to perceive and appreciate the different forms of courage around him, even when they come in petite female packaging. No wonder we women readers treasure him. It's not just that he can even the odds in a fight with evil; it's that he values "our" contribution to that fight, whether or not we know and use martial arts.
A WANTED MAN is a nonstop action thriller, and Reacher's stats add up rapidly, once he asserts control of his own actions. At the book's opening, he's hitchhiking toward "a woman in Virginia" -- and those who've read Reacher 15, Worth Dying For, know something about her and why Reacher believes she's someone he needs to meet, as he fights for independence and justice. Although he'll tangle with possibly corrupt -- and definitely dangerous and annoying -- federal agents, and with a threat so large and international that it's worth the attention of the Department of Homeland Security, every moment that Reacher invests in the situation that's enmeshed Karen Delfuesco is a moment of deferring his larger goal: getting to that woman in Virginia. Loyalty: that's another reason Jack Reacher calls us to bond with him, at least in the pages of a Lee Child thriller.
I couldn't put this one down for long, even though there were long thoughtful passages mixed into the consuming pace of action. The way that each connection with an old friend puts that friend's life, as well as your own, into perspective, A WANTED MAN adds to our connections with Reacher and his quest. Thank goodness, we know there's another book coming.
NOTE: Watch for more reviews this week, as I catch up during a (very slightly) slower few days of the "day job." I expect to compare several of this week's books with A WANTED MAN. You have 24 hours to grab your copy and think about it, or pick one up if you don't yet have it.
FOR REFERENCE: There's a downloadable list of Lee Child's books here: http://leechild.com/books. Reacher #16, The Affair, was a prequel.