Fearless, free and feminist: the enduring appeal of Jack Reacher
From Kate Atkinson to Haruki Murakami, the fast-paced Jack Reacher books have a host of obsessive fans. As a new thriller is released, we investigate the magnetism of Lee Child’s antihero
This month, Lee Child’s latest novel – his 24th thriller featuring Jack Reacher, a 6ft 5in, 250lb former US army military policeman – will be at, or near, the top of the bestseller charts. The books have been a publishing phenomenon, a huge commercial fiction brand, since the Coventry-born author (real name Jim Grant) wrote the first, Killing Floor, in 1997, when he heard he was getting laid off from his job as a TV executive. The stories are, essentially, westerns. Reacher is a loner, a wanderer. He has never settled into a “normal” life after leaving the army. He travels the US, hitching or taking the bus: it’s a way of life he began as a means to explore the country, but by now, it’s a compulsion. He carries only a toothbrush. He buys new clothes when he needs them, junks the old ones. He doesn’t look for trouble, but trouble finds him. In each new town he solves the mystery, gets the bad guys and doles out rough justice. There’s a lot of violence: guns, or scrappy hand-to-hand fighting. Kicks in the groin, punches to the head, elbows scything ferociously into flanks.
For stories to be as successful as these, they need to be read by people who don’t generally read. But what makes Reacher so fascinating is the books’ appeal not only outside, but within the rarefied circles of the literati – unlike, say, the work of Dan Brown or EL James. Their success with the grandes dames of literature is especially striking. Antonia Fraser is a fan. Kate Atkinson is a fan. Margaret Drabble, asked earlier this year by the Guardian what book she wished she’d written, answered: “Anything by Lee Child. What page turners, what prose, what landscapes, what motorways and motels, what mythic dimensions! I read, awestruck, waiting impatiently for the next.”
Reacher respects and likes women. Finds them delightful, and sexy. But not in a creepy way
Women want to be Jack Reacher: to abandon all responsibilities, to be physically invincible