Jack Reacher #17: Something primal this way comes

A Wanted Man, by Lee Child (Random House Publishing Group, 2012, 416 pages)

I had to smile when I saw a preview of Jack Reacher, a new movie based on author Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series. Tom Cruise is cast as ex MP Jack Reacher, which is quite a stretch (pardon the pun): Reacher is described as “huge,” 6’5” tall with a 50” chest. Cruise is all of 5’7”–two inches shorter than his ex-wife Katie Holmes. Hollywood casting is truly a mystery, but whatever the formula I can’t imagine Cruise even coming close to the brutality and sheer bulk that is Jack Reacher. But we shall see.

Lee Child’s seventeenth Reacher novel, A Wanted Man , finds Reacher on the road to somewhere yet again. Reacher, in case you haven’t read any of Child’s earlier novels, is a former MP who achieved the rank of Major, was demoted to Captain, but then re-promoted to Major before he was demobbed in the late 1990s. He had grown so tired of being told where to go, what to do, and how to do it that he decided to become a drifter, hitchhiking across the country and meeting with danger at every juncture. A modern-day knight errant, his peregrinations bring him into contact with the worst human beings you can imagine–but also with some of the sexiest women.

In the Reacher novels, Child starts of at a sprint, and his newest is no exception. Right off, we witness the murder of a man in a deserted bunker in Nebraska. An eyewitness reports two men in dark suits who entered the bunker with the victim, and who then left without him and took off in his little red car. The local Sheriff begins the investigation, and is soon joined by the FBI. One agent, a long, leggy, blonde named Julia Sorenson is perplexed by the crime, but even more perplexed by the fact that the murder has aroused the interest of several other Federal agencies of weight, namely the state department and the CIA. What could possibly be going on in nowhere Nebraska that would involve national security?

Meanwhile, Reacher is hitching rides across Nebraska still hoping to get to Virginia, where he hopes to meet Susan, the CO of the fictional 110th MP unit–a woman he knows only through phone conversations (61 Hours, #14, Random House). He is sporting a badly broken nose, stemming from an encounter with the butt end of a shotgun in Worth Dying For (#15, Random House). Now he is happy to be picked up by two preppy-looking men in a Chevy Impala, so he jumps into the back seat with a third person, a woman. He is sure he is that much closer to his destination, to Susan with the great voice, and perhaps to a relationship that might mean something.

Lee Child (b. 1954) lives in New York, but was born in Coventry and raised in Birmingham, England. Source: leechild.com

But is he?  Anyone familiar with Child’s writing can quickly figure out what is going on, and why Reacher was picked up. Soon Reacher puts two and two together, and realizes that his good fortune probably has more to do with a BOLO (“Be On The Lookout”) and with roadblocks than with good luck. How many people are police looking for in a car heading east?

That’s all you’re getting out of me. Just be assured that Reacher is in for quite a ride–and so is the reader–into a world where government is no longer the savior but may in fact be the perpetrator. This theme is showing up in fiction more lately (see my review of Grisham’s The Racketeer): a sign of the times?

To me, the most fascinating thing about the character Jack Reacher is that Jack Reacher fascinates us so. Why? It must occur at some primal level. Perhaps because men find his independence and toughness something to be secretly admired as they are folding socks and daydreaming. Perhaps women find in him something forbidden by the new culture that has developed in recent decades, a culture that demands not tough guys but men who are submissive, sensitive, and willing to stay home and fold laundry. Could it be that we all–men and women alike–miss John Wayne just a little bit?

Well, I am not a psychologist. I just read books. This, the newest Jack Reacher novel, is fun, exciting, suspenseful, energizing, and well worth reading.

And men, it is a great way to spend those breaks between baskets of laundry.

Copyright 2013 Isaac Morris

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