American Hero

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I first met Jack Reacher in 1997 – and I was instantly smitten. A lone figure, downing coffee and eggs in a diner on the edge of a small American town, he remains as cool as an Inuit’s deep freeze when the local cops roar up, arrest him at gunpoint and charge him with murder.

Reacher, former US military cop turned wandering loner, just observes and analyses everything the police force of Margrave, Georgia, say and do, so he can work on extricating himself from what is obviously a simple misunderstanding. But the more he finds out, the deeper in he gets . . .

Lee Child’s first Reacher thriller gripped me from the outset, and eleven books later he still hasn’t lost his allure. That first, Killing Floor, put Reacher into a brilliantly paced plot, in which the ostensibly pleasant Southern backwater of Margrave is revealed as the headquarters of a humungous but disturbingly credible financial scam. But it keeps you reading because you just can’t figure out how it’s going to resolve itself. And unlike many thrillers, the dénouement manages not to evoke an unsatisfactory sense of being somehow cheated on the promise of the set-up.

It’s not all clever plotting, though. There’s some graphic triple-Xrated violence dealt out with deadly efficiency by Reacher – at a towering 6ft 4in, he’s 240 lbs of muscle and brain – and by his nefarious opponents. We learn a lot too about American prison life (very nasty) and banking in Atlanta (surprisingly interesting). And we get to know Reacher (nobody ever calls him Jack), and recognize in him the power of an archetypal but unique American hero. At heart, he’s a character out of the great traditions of American cinema – the loner who cleans up the town and then rides away.

As the series progresses, each opening chapter finds him in a new location. He could be digging swimming pools in the Florida Keys, walking across the Colorado backwoods, savouring an espresso at a Manhatt

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About the contributor

Karen Robinson is the author of Rescue!, a collection of stories based on real children’s acts of bravery. She is supplements editor of the Sunday Times, and reviews books and audio books for the paper.

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