I confess. I like Lee Child’s Reacher novels. That’s like saying I like pulp fiction or dime novels or soap operas or comic books or romances. I know Bookin’ With Sunny generally concentrates on books that aren’t part of a series, books that stretch a reader’s mind and imagination, books that aren’t predictable, books that aren’t popularized by the mass media. But I’d like to make an exception, because, as I freely admit, I like Lee Child’s Reacher novels. They’re rollicking good reads.
The latest one, The Affair, is essential to an understanding of all the previous ones because it goes back in time to the crucial moment when Reacher resigns from the military and goes on the road as a one-man righter of wrongs. The Army sends Major Jack Reacher to rural Mississippi to find the perpetrator of a recent murder. Hopefully, the guilty party isn’t from a nearby Army base where elite Rangers come and go at mysterious intervals. Reacher, of course, finds more crimes, more mayhem, and more cover-ups than expected. As in all the other Reacher novels, the hero parses the evidence in complex ways that no one else has been able to see, let alone explain. He entangles himself with a sexy woman. He also confronts a series of impossible situations where, despite unbeatable odds, he always manages to outwit and/or out-fight enemies galore. Mind games, fight scenes, intellectual and physical violence, vengeance always effective but not always legal.
I wanted to write a review of The Affair because I wanted to figure out why I (and so many other readers) find the Reacher novels so compelling. When I was kid, the movie Shane was one of my favorites. Some years ago, I even wrote a critical analysis of Shane’s power. The gunman (known only by his last name) confronts impossible situations in a dysfunctional community, out-shoots the bad guys and saves the day for the good guys, then rides off into the sunset alone. His very exceptional strengths make him unable to settle permanently in any one place or ultimately to love anything other than his own freedom to roam. The height of Shane’s cinematic success coincided with the Cold War, when the threat of nuclear Armageddon dominated the headlines. Shane was a metaphorical way of using extreme methods to bring justice to his world. Reacher and his stories, so popular in a time of our terrorist fears, plays exactly the same role in the present.
The Affair follows the pattern perfectly. Reacher is above the law but, in truth, his actions are ultimately just. When he rides off into the sunset (generally hitchhiking, or climbing on a Greyhound bus) at the close of each of his novels, the reader can count on it–evil has been avenged. He’s committed to fairness, and nothing more. Would that we could quash today’s terrorists as efficiently and as effectively.
Much to my delight, my copy of The Affair contained a bonus, a short story titled “Second Son.” In its pages, Child tells us about Reacher’s youth, when he and his brother Joe arrived with their parents in Okinawa. We see the boy who will become the man, and we see the prototype that will characterize his future behavior. Reacher is Reacher, no matter how young or how old. That’s why we read his stories—virtue always triumphs. -A.R.