Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Lee Child, A WANTED MAN: Jack Reacher #17

US cover, left; UK cover, right.
Last weekend's New York Times Magazine interview with medical suspense writer Jodi Picoult showed the author giving a tough set of responses to questions about gendered fiction. Challenged by the term "chick lit," she didn't just say it's not what she writes -- she reminded the interviewer that 47% of her readers are male.

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.


Rahul SMS said...

Let me tell you on the onset that I found this book nowhere close to the Reacher I am used to reading about in the earlier books. The book starts as a typical Reacher novel where he finds himself in the middle of a situation in a new town while hitching a ride to Virginia. Meanwhile there is brutal murder in the nearby town which is being investigated by a special agent of FBI. Reacher’s intractions with the occupants of the car and the FBI investigation forms the basis of the book and how he is able to uphold justice the Reacher way eventually.
The book offers some good mathematical trivia, a Reacher trait which was not highlighted in earlier books. One is also treated to a nice geographical description of American towns, country side and interstate freeways. Keeping up with James Bond type image, Reacher manages to get to work with two beautiful ladies as usual.
Having said that I found the book very slow and somehow Lee Child has made the character of Jack Reacher a little less smart who takes more time to catch up to the clues than before.

Beth Kanell said...

Great comment; thanks for the post. I agree that this book has a slowness in Reacher's actions (until the chaotic finale), but for me, it came from the way he was evaluating the chances of each move. I recently caught up on the "prequel" THE AFFAIR, in which the action moves more rapidly (but with a somewhat lower death toll, I think).