‘The Affair” shows how Reacher became Reacher

There’s something very pure about Lee Child’s Jack Reacher crime dramas. Almost as pure as Robert Parker’s Spencer books. Reacher is an ex military police officer who drifts around the country, helping people. Kinda like Lassie and the Hulk.

Child’s Reacher books have shown us how the protagonist handled everything from small-town bullies to government conspiracies. They’ve inspired a movie adaptation to star Tom Cruise, who is miscast. Reacher is a stoic giant of a man. Cruise … isn’t. So I guess we’ll see how that all turns out.

But one thing Child hasn’t done until now is tell us how Reacher became Reacher.

“The Affair,” Child’s most recent Reacher novel, flashes back to 1997, just a few months before the events of Child’s first Reacher story.

Reacher is still an Army MP, still taking orders from superior officers, even when they’re not really superior. And considering Reacher is a perfect physical specimen, an expert marksman, a man with an unerring internal clock and a deadly moral code, who would be considered superior?

As the book opens, Reacher is assigned to go to a town near a Mississippi military base, ostensibly to solve the murder of a young woman from the town but in reality to put a damper on the investigation. High stakes are involved, of course. Reacher’s most likely suspect is the son of a senator who has a taste for townies.

Reacher must balance the demands of the investigation, his own growing sense that his Army career is over, his affair with the town’s beautiful female sheriff and the usual assortment of bad guys who find themselves overmatched in battles of brains or brawn with Reacher.

Child’s books could feel predictable and too safe. I remember a moment in one of the later books when the bad guys broke Reacher’s nose and left him in a basement. It was the only real physical harm that I remember ever being inflicted on Reacher, and it was only momentary: Reacher quickly re-set his broken nose (in a painful scene that made me wince) and then decimated the thugs.

But Child has a knack for making the Reacher stories just right. Maybe it’s his capable, no-frills writing. Maybe it’s the detestable bad guys that Reacher takes on, or his likable allies. Maybe it’s Reacher himself, who is as amiable as he is deadly.

It will be interesting to see where the prolific author goes with this series. It would seem that this prequel tells us all we need to know about Reacher’s genesis and the previous book seemed to take him in a new direction, contemplating a romantic rendezvous of some substance.

Like a lot of other readers, I’ll be eager to see where Reacher ends up next.

 

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