Kindle Food: Lee Child has choice to make for Jack Reacher after ‘Make Me’

“Kindle Food” is an occasional column about the various books and other materials that made us reconsider our long-standing refusal to make the jump to the digital world with our books.

It's safe to say Wednesday the 9th was not a great travel day. There's no point in running down the entire list of woes, but by the time I made it to Toronto, I was positively ruined. There's only one thing that made the day bearable. One of the things I love about the Kindle is pre-ordering books when they're super-cheap and then totally forgetting I did it. It's a genuine surprise to me when I open the Kindle and there's some new book that I am thrilled about reading.

The most recent surprise was the new Jack Reacher novel, “Make Me,” and I intentionally set it aside until I was on the plane and on my way to Toronto. I read the entire thing before I arrived, and while that may seem like I burned through it, that's a testament to the way Lee Child writes these at this point. There's a formula, of course, and there is a familiar rhythm to the stories, but Child has mastered the fine art of writing super-short chapters, laying down a hook at the end of each one that throws directly to the next. It is the literary equivalent of big-balled blockbuster filmmaking, and Child is very good at what he does.

Even after the release of the Tom Cruise movie, I still feel like there are plenty of people who are unfamiliar with Jack Reacher. He might be the best modern pulp character, a perfectly conceived ongoing series lead. Once an exceptional member of the Army, a military police officer with an excellent service record, Reacher pissed off the wrong Colonel and found himself on the wrong end of an honorable discharge. Since then, he has refused to settle down to a permanent address, choosing instead to just wander, going wherever he wants to, not even carrying a suitcase with him. He has ID, an ATM card, and enough of a pension that he never wants for anything.

This approach ends up leading him into trouble more often than not, though. That's fine with him. Like my beloved Travis McGee, there's a touch of the knight errant to Reacher. He has a keenly attuned sense of social justice, and when he feels someone is being treated poorly or victimized, he's not afraid to step in, get his hands dirty, and fix things. In “Make Me,” he is traveling by train and decides to get off in a small town called Mother's Rest. He's curious about the name more than anything, but his decision leads him to what is eventually one of the darkest endings to any Reacher adventure so far.

It also sees Child softening the character a bit, starting to consider something more permanent. As he often does, Reacher crosses paths with a fit and willing woman who is his equal both in a fight and in bed. He's got an often-offered theory that the best sex is always the second time, after you get past the first-time jitters and start to understand one another. His encounter with private detective Michelle Chang (formerly Special Agent Michelle Chang of the FBI) seems to break every rule Reacher has for himself, and he's not sure what to make of it. She's the one who draws him into the book's central mystery, but it's not her fault. Reacher's in it from the moment he steps off the train, because no one and nothing in Mother's Rest is what they or it seems to be.

In the world that Child paints in his books, there are a lot of small towns with dark secrets, and Reacher has a knack for poking at them until they spill their secrets. If there's any danger built into the series, it is that Reacher's nomadic nature means he has to keep stumbling into these troubled situations, and he has to kick the hornet's nest. At some point, the series risks devolving into self parody, and there have been installments in the series where Child hints at growth for Reacher, at some sort of evolution for him. There are a few hints here, especially in the final pages, that Child is continuing to wrestle with the dilemma, but it also feels for the first time like Child doesn't know exactly how far he can go. He seems to be torn between what the character wants, which is that continued development, some cumulative effect from everything he's seen, and the demands of the marketplace, which would dictate that he's got to remain in stasis, exactly who he is now while the books are still selling.

Also… what does the title have to do with anything? Did I miss it somewhere? Thinking of the ultimate payoff to the book and the reveal of what's going on in Mother's Rest, I don't see what the title could possibly have to do with any of it. Very strange choice. It's a good tough guy title, but it feels like it belongs on a totally different Reacher story.

One of the things I'm curious about is how many Reacher films Tom Cruise is going to force into existence simply because he wants them, even if the audience doesn't show up. “Never Go Back” is the 13th book in the series, and in terms of continuity, it felt like a big payoff for anyone reading the series as its been coming out. It's a very strange choice for the second film, except that it's a particularly good story. I'm just curious how they lay the groundwork required for it to really land its big punches.

I admit that I still am not sure how I feel about Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher. If you're a fan of the books, you know that Reacher is described as a physically imposing man, well past six feet tall and pretty much carved out of redwood. Just huge. Cruise is a very good actor, and there are many things he can do well, but “be over six feet tall” is not one of them. I still think it was a very strange choice for Christopher McQuarrie to use the Peter Jackson/”Lord Of The Rings”/forced perspective trick to make Tom Cruise look gigantic, as you can see in this photo from the film —

— and I certainly hope they reconsider for the new film. I'd say the odds of them ever getting far enough into the catalog to shoot “Make Me” as a film are slim to none. This is a lesser Reacher book, but that's still a slick, propulsive read. It just feels like it's time for Child to decide how far he's willing to take the character and, if he makes the interesting choice, start breaking the formula that has made him so very rich so far.

“Make Me” is available now.
Interested? Pick up a copy via the Amazon link below and you'll be helping the Film Nerd 2.0 Amazon Store as well.