Lee Child is the enigmatic powerhouse behind the bestselling Jack Reacher novels. With millions of devoted fans across the globe, and over a hundred million copies of his books sold in more than forty languages, he is that rarity, a writer who is lauded by critics and revered by readers. And yet curiously little has been written about the man himself.
The Reacher Guy is a compelling and authoritative portrait of the artist as a young man, refracted through the life of his fictional avatar, Jack Reacher. Through parallels drawn between Child and his literary creation, it tells the story of how a boy from Birmingham with a ferocious appetite for reading grew up to become a high-flying TV executive, before coming full circle and establishing himself as the strongest brand in publishing.
Heather Martin explores Child’s lifelong fascination with America, and shows how the Reacher novels fed and fuelled this obsession, shedding light on the opaque process of publishing a novel along the way. Drawing on her conversations and correspondence with Child over a number of years, as well as interviews with his friends, teachers and colleagues, she forensically pieces together his life, traversing back through the generations to Northern Ireland and County Durham, and following the trajectory of his extraordinary career via New York and Hollywood until the climactic moment when, in 2020, having written a continuous series of twenty-four books, he finally breaks free of his fictional creation.
Three things attracted me to this book, about an author that I have never actually read. The price, a first chapter titled The Library, and thirdly a reference to the wonderful One Hundred years of Solitude, which I happened upon whilst flicking idly through the pages.
Despite my lack of knowledge about the author, other than seeing his many books, which are seemingly everywhere, I found this biography to be very readable, no doubt because it’s good to be nosy about someone else’s life. it is interesting how the mundane can become rich when examined from the outside, and there is a wealth of detail here to dive into here.
Over half of the book charts Grant’s life before finding his inner (Lee) child, and whilst was good to find the origins of not only the author – an inveterate reader himself – but also of Jack Reacher, the text does jump around a bit between times and people causing a bit of confusion at times. This part of the book about humble and tough beginnings was interesting enough and I looked forward to reading about his writing career.
The last couple of hundred pages seemed to fly by rather too quickly, and Child’s rise to fame seemed relatively easy, after the exhaustive research of the first half of the book I would have liked more depth, esecially about the challenges he faced in the early years of writing.
Highlights for me included the author’s love of reading, his decision to name characters named after former Aston Villa players – which entertains me, if no one else – and a fascinating look behind the scenes of television in 80’s Britain, before it became about relentless dumbing down and profit over quality.
The Reacher Guy is worthwhile read, whether you agree with the business machine of writing for profit over art is something else entirely, especially when he is so grounded in literature himself. It makes for an interesting debate. It could have been Child (or not) who once said that literary authors are jealous of bestsellers because they couldn’t write a bestseller, but bestseller authors could do literary fiction. Examples weren’t provided but it does make for worthwhile research, no doubt.
Heather Martin uses lots of text from the novels to illustrate points and similarities and draw conclusions, some I found seemed a bit of a stretch but being a complete novice with the books and the man himself, I was happy to bow to her judgement.
There is an element of is too much being read into the text of the novels? but that just adds to the Lee Child myth, which is egged on by the author whose reminiscenes change over time as he mixes fact and fiction. An unreliable author who plays with his past is as interesting as Child’s love for literature juxtaposed with his drive to write bestseller fiction for money.
I did find The Reacher Guy entertaining, although it felt uneven in places and I could have done without the dip into politics and the love for Bill Clinton. Maybe bestselling books would always be more interesting if I read up on the author first. I will be dropping a review of series debut Killing Floor soon.