In 1997, Putnam released The Killing Floor and Jack Reacher was born. Sixteen books and 15 years later, Lee Child’s A Wanted Man is testament to the longevity of the “outsider” archetype. The outsider – a mysterious, rootless man of imposing stature and exceptional skill – is common in literature and film. Example? He was brought to life by Clint Eastwood in the 1964 movie, A Fistful of Dollars.
The basic plot of a Reacher story, like all outsider stories, appears simple. Reacher enters. He has no connection to what is unfolding around him, but his presence changes the ultimate outcome. There are bad people and there are good people and there is violence. Reacher is touched by, but ultimately separate from, these events and those people.
A formula? I suppose. But compared to other “formula” authors, Lee Child has kept his Reacher novels fresh and exciting. The varying locales, introduction of new characters, inventive and timely plots, and a willingness to let Reacher change – albeit very slowly – all work in his favor.
That being said, A Wanted Man is an excellent outing for Jack Reacher, a solid read for fans like me and a great opportunity for newbies (if there are any) to sample the series.
The story starts with Reacher hitchhiking across the midwest, on his way to Virginia. Series fans will know why, others will wonder and then learn that he’s traveling cross-country to meet a woman he has only heard on the phone. (Character growth for Reacher – he’s actually seeking something for himself here!) He spends many hours, and about a third of the book, in a car with the three people who picked him up. Pretenders all, it’s up to Reacher to decide who they really are, what they’re really doing, and how to stay alive.
On a parallel track is the story of FBI agent Julia Sorenson and her quest to solve the mystery of the man murdered in a concrete bunker out in the boonies. He walked in with two others, they walked out… all that came out of man #3 was his blood, inching its way under the door. The agent’s work is hampered by the disappearance of witnesses, the lack of cooperation from her own and other federal agencies.
No surprise that the two plots intersect. Reacher, Sorenson, and a third person I won’t name in order to avoid a spoiler, work together to solve the mystery. The basic premise of the story, the unusually twisty nature of the plot and the secrets of the characters make A Wanted Man one of the best novels in the series.
Likes: Reacher’s quest to reach Virginia, his physical limitations in this book, Julia Sorenson’s strong female character and the equally compelling Karen Delfuenso, the hint of a terrorist threat that is not overdone, and how the grit and determination of the characters plays out. I also admire and enjoy Child’s way of establishing Reacher’s character through thoughts and action… he’s the king of showing not telling!
Dislikes: None, really. The bad guys are maybe not quite smart enough to be a worthy challenge for Reacher – I’d like to see him go up against a present-day Professor Moriarity.
Aside: By now, most are aware that Tom Cruise has been cast to play Jack Reacher in an upcoming film adaptation of One Shot, which was an excellent book and number nine in the series. (No surprise they didn’t pick an early book – Cruise is no spring chicken.) The movie is titled Jack Reacher and is coming out at Christmas, which shows that Paramount is expecting a blockbuster. I’ll go to see it, but I gotta say… Tom Cruise? For 240-lb, 6’5″ rough-and-ready Reacher? Fans are understandably dismayed. What have they done, cast little people in all other roles? Other actors I’d consider for Reacher include:
Liam Neeson – a little old, but he has the action movie cred and is 6’4″. He’d need to lose that subtle accent he has, though.
Russell Crowe – only 5’11”, but he’s got the beat-up appearance, physicality, and he’s an awesome actor.
Joe Manganiello – he’s got all the physical attributes, plus he’s the right age AND he’s an emerging actor (classically trained!). He may not have the box-office draw to open a Christmas movie in 2012, but he’d have the longevity to support the series through multiple movies. Ah, what might have been.
Additional aside: Lee Child himself kind of has the Reacher thing going on.