Who is Jack Reacher?

With Tom Cruise playing Jack Reacher in the forthcoming movie, James provides a handy introduction to Lee Child's literary action hero...

“I was arrested in Eno’s diner. I was eating eggs and drinking coffee. A late breakfast, not lunch. I was wet and tired after a long walk in heavy rain. All the way from the highway to the edge of town.”

In March 1997, the above paragraph introduced readers of Lee Child’s debut novel, Killing Floor, to the world of Jack Reacher. Since having this brunch somewhat rudely interrupted, Jack Reacher has been the star of 16 further novels and a couple of short stories, and is soon to be realised on the big screen by Tom Cruise in the first feature film based on Child’s enormously popular character.

Lee Child was a redundant television executive from Cumbria when he wrote the first Jack Reacher adventure. Following the success of Killing Floor, he relocated to New York (his wife is American) and has since sent Reacher on escapades all over the United States. So, just who is this character that has turned Child into one of the most successful crime writers of all time, and managed to attract one of the biggest names in Hollywood to take on the role? Who is Jack Reacher?

Jack (None) Reacher, to give him his full name, could be most concisely described as a drifter, breezing through the USA, going wherever his fancy takes him. His fancy quite often leads him into volatile situations where Reacher’s overpowering sense of right means he cannot help but get involved. He’s a sort of cross between the Lone Ranger and a one man A-Team.

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But Reacher must come from somewhere though. Something must have inspired this never-ending walkabout. Jack Reacher comes from the military, or more specifically, the military police, where he held the rank of major, was highly decorated, and a part of an elite team known as 110th Special Investigations Unit. The members of said unit would be introduced and brought back together when one of their number is murdered in the eleventh Reacher novel Bad Luck And Trouble.

Reacher left the US army in 1997 having become disenchanted with being a soldier. His time there has so far been covered in two of Child’s novels. In The Enemy, Reacher found himself knee deep in military corruption when dealing with the death of a general. It was events of this time that were the beginning of what would lead him to become the nomad that we know today.

The straw that broke the camel’s back would be revealed in the 16th Jack Reacher adventure – The Affair. Set six months before his arrest at Eno’s diner, The Affair found Reacher slap bang in the middle of a military bureaucracy when assigned to investigate the death of a young woman near an army base. The Affair addressed numerous questions that Reacher fans had been waiting a long time for answers to, and is one of best novels in the series to date, a real keep-you-guessing page turner that left the Reacher character reeling and broken.

By the time Reacher reached his ninth outing One Shot (the book upon which the upcoming movie is based), he muses on his departure from the military in the following way: “I was in the machine. My whole life. Then the machine coughed and spat me out. So I thought, OK, if I’m out. All the way out. I was a little angry and it was probably an immature reaction. But I got used to it.”

As Killing Floor begins, Jack Reacher has becoming accustomed to his new lifestyle – hopping off a Greyhound bus in the middle of nowhere because it just happens to be the home of a blues singer he likes, armed now only with cash and a folding toothbrush. A constant source of bemusement to the people Reacher encounters on his travels is his lack of baggage – well, physical baggage, at least. Jack doesn’t do laundry, full stop, preferring to buy a set of clothes, wear them for a few days before discarding them when purchasing the next set.

One could assume that he maybe really hates ironing after all those years of keeping his military uniform spick and span. Not that he owns an iron, or anything else. Reacher is given a house in the third novel Tripwire, but it doesn’t last long and is left behind by the conclusion of the fourth book, the very excellent The Visitor. In fact, by the end of Bad Luck And Trouble, he’s even lost his toothbrush.

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Despite a lack of possessions, Reacher is a man whom people take notice of when he walks into a room. Described as six foot five, with a fifty inch chest and weighing somewhere between 210 and 250 pounds. He has ice-blue eyes and dirty blonde hair. In the book Persuader, which in this writer’s opinion is the best Reacher novel to date, he comments that a guy bigger than him is “at freak level”. Child makes quite a meal of Reacher’s appearance throughout the series, which is why the casting of Tom Cruise in the role led to a certain amount of head scratching. You may love him, but a six foot five, 250 pound blonde, The Cruiser is not.

When quizzed on the casting of his leading man, Lee Child philosophised that “Reacher’s size in the books is a metaphor for an unstoppable force, which Cruise portrays in his own way.” This may seem like a polite, towing-the-studio-line response, but Child may have a point. Personally, I have never envisaged Jack Reacher as a blonde, but more in the image of former WWE wrestler Batista. Conversely, my brother imagines him to be more like Den Of Geek favourite, Jason Statham. There is a chance, albeit perhaps a small one, that someone out there has been reading the novels picturing Tom Cruise.

Back to Jack Reacher on paper, one of his defining personality traits besides his need to right the wrongs he encounters, is his constant quest for coffee. Reacher has a coffee obsession to rival that of the Den Of Geek Twitter feed. In The Enemy it is noted that “The Reacher brothers’ need for caffeine makes heroin addiction look like an amusing little take-it-or-leave-it sideline”.

The Reacher brothers? Yes, once upon a time Reacher had a family. He was born to an American marine captain and a French mother. Little is talked about of Reacher’s father; he’s only really mentioned in any detail in the novel Without Fail. Reacher describes him as a “Gentle, shy, sweet, loving man, but a stone-cold killer” and comments that after his military service “there was no place left for people like him”. Sound familiar? It doesn’t take much to conclude that Reacher clearly looked up to and idolised his father, and though Reacher’s reasons for leaving the service were very different to his dad’s, they’ve ended up at the same point.

Reacher’s father has yet to appear in any of Child’s books but he did introduce mummy Reacher in flashback novel, The Enemy. Josephine Moutier Reacher is a former French Resistance fighter who once strangled a schoolmate who threatened to betray her to the Nazis. So maybe, Reacher wasn’t influenced solely by his father.

Finally, there was Reacher’s older brother, Joe. Two years his senior, Reacher often talks with fondness of his brother and how the Reacher boys would stick together to beat up the kids who gave each of them trouble at school. It seems that a sense of tough, do-gooding loyalty was a Reacher family trait. Joe appears in The Enemy and briefly in The Affair as well as playing a pivotal role in the Reacher debut, Killing Floor.

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Before you’re starting to wonder what a lonely life Reacher must lead on his never ending travels, be assured that Jack seldom has trouble finding a little companionship, especially of the female nature. Reacher is undoubtedly a loner, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t enjoy the company of a lady once in a while, and he appears seemingly irresistible to them too. It’s a good job Reacher has that whole man-of-mystery, riding-into-town-to-sort-out-the-problem thing going on, though, as his flirtatious banter isn’t up to much. His chat up line to Detective Theresa Lee, whom he helps track down an Al-Qaeda team in the New York City-based Gone Tomorrow, is that he wonders “what your shirt would look like on the floor”. He’s not exactly James Bond.

The closest Jack Reacher has come to someone you would term a ‘girlfriend’ is Jodie Garber. The daughter of his former commanding officer, Garber has been into Reacher since she was 15, but begins a relationship with him in Tripwire as many years later. Reacher even settled down for a time, living in New York with Jodie. Jodie Garber is so far the only of Reacher’s lady friends to have her relationship with him last into the next book in the series, The Visitor, although by the time Reacher is helping out an abused wife in fifth instalment Echo Burning, we learn that she has moved to Europe.

Jack Reacher’s adventures have so far taken him all over the United States of America and in the tenth novel, The Hard Way, to Norfolk, England. The most recent offering from Lee Child, A Wanted Man, has seen Jack continuing his quest to reach Virginia which began in 61 Hours, three books earlier. The situations that Reacher finds himself in have ranged from small town, local trouble to helping protect the American Vice-President. No matter how big or small though, Reacher always applies his stoic demeanour to proceedings.

Although long freed from any obligation to serve his country, Reacher seems to have an instilled duty to protect those in need whom he comes into contact with, and to make sure that justice triumphs over wrongdoings. Sometimes folk seek him out to enlist his help, his reputation preceding him, as happens in The Visitor when he helps the FBI solve a series of murders of women left in bath tubs full of army green paint.

Sometimes Reacher is just in the wrong place at the wrong time. At the beginning of Die Trying, Reacher, playing good Samaritan to a woman on crutches, finds himself being bundled into the back of a van and driven halfway across the US. It’s at times like this when Reacher’s rule that he imparts in Nothing To Lose comes into play: “I’m a man with a rule. People leave me alone, I leave them alone. If they don’t, I don’t.” The guy is like a dog with a bone then. A pretty big and angry dog. No one who hasn’t left Reacher alone has come out of it very well thus far.

Rumour has it that Lee Child will write a total of 21 Jack Reacher novels. The 18th in the series, to be entitled Never Go Back, will be released in 2013, and will reportedly see Reacher reach the end of his journey to West Virginia. He’s on his way there to meet a woman he once spoke to on the phone, which seems as good a reason as any.

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While Reacher’s popularity is assured on the page, the fate of his big screen career hangs in the balance. Jack Reacher – The Movie is sure to not be a flop, having an A-list star in the lead, a curiosity value among both non-fans and devotees, as well as having being trimmed to achieve a 12A rating in the UK, which helped to get bums on seats for Taken 2. Talk is that Reacher films two and three are already under discussion. Lee Child revealed in an interview that 61 Hours is the favourite for the follow up (although given that it takes place in a snow storm, that could prove a production nightmare) with the ensemble piece of Bad Luck And Trouble to follow that.

A few months from now, this will all be much clearer, and the question as to whether or not Tom Cruise has risen to the occasion will have been answered.

One thing is for certain, though: if you have a problem and no one else can help, and if he just happens to drift into town, maybe Jack Reacher will. And if you are the problem: hide…

Jack Reacher opens on the 26th December in the UK.

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