That brings me to Jack Reacher. I'm sure a lot of people are familiar with Lee Child’s iconic hero by now - his adventures have been appearing on bestseller lists for years, across over twenty books. There are even two films, with Tom Cruise cast in the role of Reacher (probably not the guy you’d pick if you'd read the books, but hey-ho). Yet despite all that, I'm relatively new to this popular phenomena.
I can't remember what piqued my interest with these books, whether it was a book blurb, a description of the character, or something else entirely, but when I started, I thought it probably best to start at the beginning.
And this is where Killing Floor comes in. Here's the blurb:
Jack Reacher jumps off a bus and walks fourteen miles down a country road into Margrave, Georgia. An arbitrary decision he's about to regret.
Reacher is the only stranger in town on the day they have had their first homicide in thirty years.The cops arrest Reacher and the police chief turns eyewitness to place him at the scene. As nasty secrets leak out, and the body count mounts, one thing is for sure.
They picked the wrong guy to take the fall.
That last sentence is pretty much bang on the money. In true western style, the new stranger in town is definitely not the guy the local banditos should pick a fight with. Reacher is ex-MP (‘military police’, not ‘member of parliament’ - thank god!), meaning he's intelligent, well trained, and has plenty of experience dealing with the worst kind of trouble.
Forced out of the army due to cuts, Reacher finds himself ill-equipped to deal with the civilised world. Not that he considers it a problem. Rather than take root somewhere, get a mortgage, have bills to pay, he sees it as an opportunity to wander the land, to explore America in a way he's never been able to before. He's a drifter, moving from to town to town, like some hero of the Old West.
Child describes Reacher as a knight errant, and as the series unfolds that becomes more and more obvious. More than moving from town to town, he moves to a town, finds trouble, sorts it out, then rides off into the sunset. It's an old formula, and it's been seen across cultures, from the knights of medieval Europe and the ronin of Japan, to the cowboys and Dirty Harrys of the American west. But it works, that’s why it's so popular.
One of the reasons Lee Child’s version is so popular is that he does a good job of freshening things up. Not only does he aim for a unique premise with each story, he also switches it up in his style of writing, switching between a first-person voice or 3rd person voices, depending on the needs of the story.
Killing Floor is one of those told through first-person - in Jack Reacher’s own words. I usually struggle to really get into first-person POV, whether it's reading or writing, because, I think, my imagination prefers to craft the world I'm visiting as a movie scene, rather than seeing the world through someone else's mind.
Yet, with that in mind, I had no problems losing myself in the world of Jack Reacher. The language is easy, with brief descriptions and punchy dialogue, and the writing just flows smoothly. The author has a talent for feeding the reader questions that have to be answered, which makes for a real page turner.
The story itself is something of a twisty, murder mystery, interspersed with occasional, brutal action. Reacher gets off a bus in the town of Margrave, simply because he remembers his brother mentioning it as the town where the blues player Blind Blake died. Shorty after his arrival, Reacher is arrested for murder, with the local sheriff falsely claiming he saw Reacher leaving the scene.
Fortunately for Reacher, he finds a couple of allies among the local police, including a female officer named Roscoe who believes him to be innocent. After persuading Roscoe to ring a number found in the dead man’s shoe, the police are led to a new suspect who admits to the murder. Rather than set Reacher free, this puts him on a collision course with the dark forces running things in Margrave.
I won’t reveal any more, as we’re entering spoiler territory, but I will say twists and turns abound as Reacher searches for answers. There’s plenty of action and suspense along the way, with the story living up to the thriller tag.
I’ve read a few more Reacher books since first reading this one, some I’ve really enjoyed and a couple that were disappointing, but none so far have matched Killing Floor for thrills and spills. It’s a great opening to the Reacher world, and if you’re looking for a new thriller to sink your teeth into, I doubt you’ll find much better.
Action, suspense, and mystery combine to great effect. With an old-school hero who doesn’t take lip from anybody. Give Jack a go!