Jack gets personal with rogue sniper
Myles McWeeney on the latest Reacher novel from Lee Child, already lined up for a Tom Cruise movie
Personal is the latest story in the highly successful series of adventures penned by British-born author Lee Child about Jack Reacher, a former hard man in the US Military Police who, by his own choice, became a rootless drifter roaming America righting wrongs and dispensing his own frequently lethal form of justice.
In this story he is in Seattle when the army reaches out to him. An expert sniper has taken a shot at the French president and the army brass suspects the shooter could be a former American Special Operations operative called John Kott. Reacher and Kott have history, because 16 years ago Reacher had tracked him down and put him in prison after he had committed a rather messy murder. The army wants him to do that all over again.
Reacher is sent across the Atlantic in the company of a young female CIA operative called Casey Nice, first to France to assess the scene of the unsuccessful assassination attempt, and then to London, where a G8 Summit is due to be held which will be attended by the President of the United States.
The US military are convinced Kott is targeting a head of state at the G8 Summit, but Reacher has come to realise that Kott is actually seeking revenge for the 15 years he has spent in prison and that he himself is the real target. Reacher discovers that Kott is in the employ of Little Joey, a vicious London crime lord, and to flush him out into the open he must penetrate the crime boss's secure base.
Packed with arcane and fascinating detail about the mechanics of sniping and a whole range of other subjects, Child's almost trademarked and seriously addictive clipped prose and dialogue keeps Personal clipping along at breakneck pace with the tension ratcheting up satisfactorily to the inevitably bloody conclusion.
The first Reacher novel, Killing Floor, was published in 1997 and, the following year, Child - whose real name is Jim Grant - moved permanently to the United States with his wife Jane, a native New Yorker, and teenaged daughter.
He had come to writing relatively late in life, having been fired from his job in Granada Television in Manchester for union activities. Desperate to earn money to keep the family afloat, he purchased a box of pencils and a stack of jotters and set out to write a thriller. The first words of fiction he had ever written became the opening paragraphs of Killing Floor. It took him five months to write and he sold it in December 1995, just in time to make his January mortgage payment.
Although born in Coventry, he set Killing Floor in America to make it more commercially viable and, because he had been visiting America frequently, knew it well. The series has been immensely successful, and there are more than 70 million copies of Reacher novels in print available in 96 countries and translated into 41 languages.
He writes in an apartment in New York, rising late in the day, around noon, and working sporadically, often until after midnight. He doesn't plan his books, he says, simply starting with a premise and following it with a series of 'what ifs'. Every age and culture, he suggests, has had a Jack Reacher type of hero, from the medieval knight errant to the Japanese Ronin, a character with an immutable sense of justice who owns nothing so nothing owns him. He feels that Reacher has a very feminine sense of justice as, more than men, women hate unfairness.
Some years ago Jack Reacher fans were up in arms when it was announced that Tom Cruise was slated to play the tough drifter in a Reacher movie based on the 2005 novel One Shot. Cruise, they argued, was too pretty to play the rugged Reacher and only knee-high to a bee when compared to the burly 6ft 5in former Military Policeman envisaged by Child.
Child, however, was considerably more diplomatic about the casting, stating that "with another actor you might get 100pc of the height but only 90pc of Reacher. With Tom, you'll get 100pc of Reacher with 90pc of the height."
The movie, titled Jack Reacher, was released at the end of 2012 to generally positive reviews, but, for a Tom Cruise movie, only moderate box office returns, particularly in America. It cost $51m (¤38m)to make and grossed some $218m worldwide.
There was some doubt that another Reacher movie would be made, but in April this year it was announced that Cruise would reprise his Reacher role in a film adaptation of last year's 18th Reacher tale, Never Go Back. Shooting is scheduled to begin in the New Year.
Bantam Press, tpbk, £14.99, 400 pages
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