Jack Reacher is the type of macho man who never backs down from a fight.
The hero in Lee Child’s bestselling action thrillers is a military cop-turned-drifter. He has a code that’s reminiscent of a wandering Old West lawman: If someone needs his help and if right is on his side, he’ll stand his ground, even if outnumbered, even if the other guys are armed to the teeth.
It helps his cause that he’s practically indestructible. Reacher is 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds of brute strength, capable of withstanding a lot of punishment while dishing out even more.
A few books ago, when four thugs ganged up on our man, Reacher coolly advised them to go home and round up more guys so it could be a fair fight.
When they didn’t budge, he put them all down in a blur of bloody, bone-crunching violence.
This is a requisite ingredient of every Reacher novel. It’s pure fantasy, of course, and often utterly ridiculous. But Child’s formula for testosterone-fueled storytelling also produces very satisfying reading.
That said, there are limits to how much larger than life it can get. Even mighty Jack Reacher will go only so far.
In Child’s 20th installment to the series, Make Me (a sublimely confrontational title), Reacher finds himself in a middle-of-nowhere town with a gang of 30 tough guys ready to take him on.
He quickly does the math in his head — because Reacher has brains to go with all that brawn — and can’t quite work out a way for one-against-30 to come out in his favor. Disposing of the first 12, he knows, will be easy. But the last dozen, he decides, is asking too much of him. So he walks away.
Later, after an exhilarating mano-a-mano showdown with a very capable opponent, Reacher winds up in the hospital with serious head trauma that jeopardizes his performance for the remainder of the story.
But don’t worry, Reacher fans. He might be merely mortal, but he’s not losing his edge.
Make Me, which will come out Tuesday, opens like a modern-day Western.
Reacher hops off a train in an unremarkable Midwest town. He’s curious to find out why the place is called Mother’s Rest and, being a drifter, he has no particular place to go and nothing better to do with his time. But he’s greeted with mistrust and menace from townsfolk who are clearly up to no good.
What is the sinister secret that they’re desperate to keep to themselves?
Before long — again, because he’s got nothing better to do — Reacher hooks up with a female private detective whose partner has gone missing in this town. In their search for answers, the Old West elements melt away and Reacher cracks a criminal conspiracy involving the darkest corners of the Internet.
The bad men of Mother’s Rest are into something so despicable, he cannot let it stand. He and a couple of allies ride into town, armed for bear, ready to dispense their own version of vigilante justice.
Even though the miscast Tom Cruise seems determined to ruin this character on the big screen, the literary version of Jack Reacher is fascinating.
Child, meanwhile, keeps it lively with his usual wry commentary. Our favorite line is a throwaway comment in which the author, writing this book in the third person, dismisses martial arts in a street brawl: “Judo and karate were useless without the mats and the referee and the special pajamas.”
Even though the miscast Tom Cruise seems to be determined to ruin this character on the big screen, the literary version of Jack Reacher, who first appeared in 1997’s Killing Floor, is fascinating.
Traveling the highways and byways of America, Reacher has pared his life down to the bare essentials. He doesn’t have a home, a job or a schedule to keep. No need to carry a bag for his belongings. His only possessions are the clothes on his back, an ID, an ATM card and a folding toothbrush.
While the no-luggage thing does lead to trouble with airport security when he tries to board a plane from L.A. to Chicago, Reacher’s minimalist existence is something to be envied.
If only we had the courage to be that free.
by Lee Child
Delacorte Press, $28.99
Audiobook: Random House Audio, $32; read by Dick Hill, who is the voice of Jack Reacher.