Child vs Reacher
Guessing how much of Lee Child there is in Jack Reacher is a popular past time among Reacher fans. Typically, people focus on the fighting. For the thrill of it, mainly. But otherwise for two fairly obvious reasons: Lee is famed for his fight scenes, and Reacher for his fighting. Each in his own field reigns supreme.
Lee willingly aids and abets, declaring on the slightest pretext that ‘most of it is based on me when I was nine’. In the course of biographical research I found some evidence for this claim. First, the now legendary story of how, aged three, he started out by defending his nerdy older brother on the mean streets of Coventry, a responsibility that carried over into the school playground, where he ran a protection service for the weak and defenceless in exchange for biscuits. Then I met his best friend from high school, Andy, who told me that the first thing that came into his head when Reacher got into a fight in Killing Floor was: ‘this is Jim standing up to [school bully] Arthur Bates’. ‘He was a very loyal friend who couldn’t tolerate any kind of abuse. I lived in fear, and he would stand up for me.’
If they were to go mano a mano as adults, then Lee was likely doomed – Reacher was an inch taller and roughly twice as heavy – but if they’d met as nine-year-olds … ? It isn’t just Reacher who plays dirty, shooting guys in the back and, in the very first novel, infamously reneging on a promise to count to three before going in at two with the headbutt (‘it was beautifully done’) – the young Jim Grant concealed double-edged razor blades in the lapels of his fancy school blazer. It isn’t just Reacher who doctors his own wounds, sticking his broken nose together with duct tape – if a tooth was knocked loose in a brawl, Jim would shove it back in with his thumb.
Beautiful though he may be – ‘still gleaming and dewy with oil, flexible, supple, perfectly coordinated’, as we’re told in Second Son – reduced to a mere fighting machine Reacher would be boring. Which is why we love him equally for his Holmesian powers of deduction, his sensitivity to punctuation, and his winning ways with time and numbers. Come to think of it, this son of an American Marine, schooled on US bases in two dozen different countries, might as well have been classically educated at King Edward’s School in Birmingham, England, founded back in the days of Shakespeare. I wouldn’t want to place any bets on who would win in a game of Trivial Pursuit.
But in my opinion, the thing that most endears Reacher to us is his old-world courtesy. Here he is seen through the eyes of a bunch of white-haired seniors at the start of 61 Hours: ‘He was quiet and polite. […] Threatening behaviour from a man that size would have been unseemly. Good manners from a man that size were charming.’
Reacher always tips the waitress (Abby, in Blue Moon, is Lee’s farewell homage to his favourite character type). He always says thanks for the ride when he’s dropped off at the cloverleaf. He lends a discreet hand to the elderly. Washes the dishes with librarian Janet Salter (61 Hours) and, to cover for grieving mother Dorothy Coe (Worth Dying For) when the (very) bad guys come calling, even remembers to take his breakfast bowl, plate, coffee mug and full set of silverware with him as he closes the kitchen door quietly and sets off to his hiding place in the barn. He gets himself into all sorts of trouble helping Holly Johnson with her dry-cleaning at the start of Die Trying.
In the early days of his success, Lee asked a woman in the signing line what had made her buy her first Reacher. ‘I saw you open the door for someone,’ she answered, ‘and thought, what a polite gentleman, I’ll buy his book.’ ‘He would never get on the bus ahead of me,’ said Alison, his date for the Barn Dance when they were both eleven years old. Jim wore a shirt and tie, she recalled, and was very polite. ‘He cared about everyone in the office,’ said Rob, his best mate at Granada Television. ‘He was a loving kind of guy.’ But quiet. Not chatty. ‘He kept himself to himself. He didn’t spill himself all over the place,’ said May, landlady of the local pub in Kirkby Lonsdale, where Killing Floor was written. Alison agreed: he wasn’t the easiest guy to talk to ‘about personal things’.
Of the nicknames Jim Grant had at school there were two that stuck with me. ‘Grievous’ (from ‘grievous bodily harm’, the equivalent in English law of ‘wounding with intent’). And Gentleman Jim. They pretty much summed up Reacher as well.
Thank you, Heather! We can’t wait to order THE REACHER GUY. Readers, do you know any interesting fun facts about Lee Child?