A Man Called Reacher
One of the weirdest fictional heroes I have come across is Jack Reacher. The Jack Reacher books by Lee Child, 24 of them, are essentially westerns. Reacher is a loner, a wanderer. He served in the Army, and he retired as a major on downsizing. He has a hatred for a conventional life. He is fond of traveling, preferably hitchhiking or by taking a bus. Though he began this mode to explore the country, it has become a way of life by now. He has no wardrobe, buying new clothes whenever he needs them. Though He doesn’t actively look for trouble, trouble finds him. In each town, a problem comes to him, which he solves. The books permeate with violence in all forms.
Reacher enters our world in ‘Killing Floor’. The incidents take place in an idyllic small town in the south. The location makes one wish they had grown up there. Immediately on his arrival in Margrave, Georgia, he gets arrested for murder on the orders of the Chief of Police. A call to a number found in the dead man’s shoe leads Paul Hubble, a local banker who immediately owns the murder. Reacher and Hubble are moved to the state prison in Warburton, where there is an attempt on their loves, which Reacher counters effectively. Reacher joins the investigators, Roscoe and Finlay, while Hubble vanishes. Reacher had learned that his brother Joe was the murder victim by this time. It turns out that Joe was investigating a currency counterfeiting operation by the Kliner family. Reacher realizes that the Kliners run the racket by bleaching $1 bills for printing forged $100 bills. Reacher frees the hostages found in the Kliner warehouse and sets fire to it. After a brief stay with Roscoe, the policewoman, he decides to leave Georgia.
Lee Child has a unique ability to conjure the remote, dusty towns scattered on the American landscape. He also paints the sights of the diners, pawnshops and hardware stores quite realistically.
Reacher is Joseph Campbell’s archetypal hero: the stranger who appears from nowhere and corrects the wrongs. Reacher stories fulfil the patterns which recur in myths and fairytales.
Now, about the violence itself. Reacher’s violence has a very stylistic manner. The fight scenes are classic, reminding us of the Homeric tales. Lee Child uses a fantastic technique in the description of fights: he slows them down. In Persuader, four pages describe a fight that involves four blows.
Reacher likes and respects women and finds great pleasure in their company. Child’s female characters are complete souls, neither needy nor tortured. This situation is rare in popular fiction written by men.
Reacher is an archetypal character. He’s the mystery man who shows up at strange place where something has happened. He tries to be the faceless hero who disappears after solving a problem, never taking credit. That archetype has been a fixture in fiction. He is like the stranger who rides in in American westerns. We find similar characters in western legends. He is also cast in the mold of mythical heroes.
Revenge is the thread that connects all the Reacher books. Very often it is not Reacher who is taking revenge. Someone previously unknown to Reacher is often involved. Or it is a reaction to a strongman contemptuously throwing his weight around. An evil perpetrator is pulled up to pay on all occasions.
Reacher is six foot five inches tall, muscular and does not like authority. However, he has many skills and likes to travel. His internal clock tells him the time of the day down to seconds. He is logical and deductive and thinks through problems with uncanny skills.
Villains of all varieties make their appearance in Reacher books. In Tripwire, we have ‘Hook’ Hobie, a Vietnam veteran who learned profiteering at the war front. He’s vicious with no conscience or ethical sense. Jack Reacher almost becomes another victim.
His compulsive denial of possessions extends to ATM cards and mobile phones, though he decides to keep an ATM card in later books. He has no permanent address for getting in touch with him or where he receives mail. He has no driver’s license despite being a skilled driver of sophisticated automobiles. He gets arrested regularly but gets released because of his military personnel record.
He uses the names of former US presidents to check into motels and pays cash for each night. He is a connoisseur of excellent coffee and a prodigious coffee drinker, liking large servings.
He’s well educated, quoting Zeno and is concerned about the atavistic fears of humankind; a dread of “there’s something out there”. He thinks he knows how the minds of soldiers work; how their phoebia is sustaining a debilitating wound and not death.”
Reacher grew up mainly in Europe, the child of a military family. His father travelled from one foreign base to another, seeding in his son a deep desire for exploration. One of his career options has been military, as he belongs to a military family. Je joined the army and progressed career wise to the rank of a Major. When he saw the cloud of downsizing on the horizon, he left the Army, walking away from a position of power, choosing the life of a vagrant, a life of great uncertainty.
Reacher has reached the screen. The eponymous debut film is based on ‘One Shot’ about what appears to be random killings in a small town and in which Reacher’s former army colleague is suspected to be involved. The second movie is based on ‘Never go back’, in which Reacher goes to meet Major Susan Turner, who has taken over Reacher’s former position. Turner is accused of leaking sensitive information and is arrested and Reacher , naturally is determined to save her. Tom Cruise just does not measure up to our imagined Reacher and that is a great disappointment. For one thing, he simply doesn't have the hulk to carry it off. A new Reacher series has been announced on the Prime Video. We shall have to wait and see how good it is.
The latest Jack Reacher story is “Better Off Dead”, which I have not yet read. The Amazon blurb says,” Reacher goes where he wants, when he wants. That morning he was heading west, walking under the merciless desert sun — until he comes upon a curious scene. A Jeep has crashed into the only tree for miles around. A woman is slumped over the wheel. The woman is Michaela Fenton, an army veteran turned FBI agent trying to find her twin brother. Very promising beginning since Reacher is very likely to stop to help Ms Fenton, and we shall have an adventure ahead.