AWF Out-of-Season: An Evening with Lee Child

Lee Child is in Christchurch tonight with WORD Christchurch. Tickets are sold out. 

cv_past_tenseTo start, a confession: until yesterday, I’d never read a Lee Child story. And—here’s another, perhaps a more damning one—after watching both movies this week on Netflix, I was primed to not particularly like Reacher, either.

After all, this event was advertised as an evening with Lee Child and Jack Reacher. Reacher doesn’t form the backbone, but the entirety of Child’s writing work. And in the first Reacher movie (named simply Jack Reacher) there’s a scene in a bar that really prickled me. Reacher is approached by a woman, Sandy. And after a brief exchange, he tells her he’s not interested—by implying that she’s a prostitute (Reacher: I’m on a budget, Sandy. I can’t afford you. Sandy: I’m not a hooker. Reacher: Oh, well I really can’t afford you Sandy: Seriously, I work at the auto parts store. Reacher: What I mean is, the cheapest women tends to be the one you pay for.) Things escalate, Sandy gets mad and calls in reinforcements to beat Reacher up, and it ends in this little exchange: Sandy: I don’t mind the sight of blood. Reacher: When it means you’re not pregnant, anyway. So, you know, it was just one of those pop-culture moments that made the feminist in me squirm, recoil, and lose a little faith in humanity.

Perhaps not the introduction to Jack Reacher that the author intended. These gender-based reservations being said, there’s no doubt that Lee Child is a binge-worthy writer. He’s rare, too, in that he has written a character who has become so iconic in pop-culture that Reacher lives outside the page. In fact, Reacher boasts many famous fans—from Stephen King to Bill Clinton—and according to Child, Reacher has even made it to New Zealand parliament. (He mentioned a New Zealand politician was quoted quoting Reacher himself: “We must hope for the best and plan for the worst.”)

Child’s work is accessible, and Reacher is snarky enough to satisfy both people who like thrillers, and people who like thrillers ironically. And from the moment he stepped on stage at the Bruce Mason theatre, I knew it was going to be hard to love to hate him.

Perhaps because he’s well-versed in author events by now, or perhaps because he started his career with an eighteen-year stint as a presentation director for Granada Televison; either way, Lee Child has a very likeable way of being around people. He’s charming and funny, in a relaxed kind of way, and it was impossible not to get sucked in by his genuine concern for his readers.


Photo of Lee Child by Sigrid Estrada

After talking a little about his story—about how he was inspired to work in entertainment by the utter joy of Beatles mania (he talks about postwar Britain being horribly depressing for a child, up until the Beatles); his firing at 40 and the 7-mortgage payment severance payment period that he had to make that first book work; after that, he talked about the responsibility he has to serve his readers—and that was something that resonated with me.

Readers are the ones who create story, he said, a book doesn’t exist until it has been read. And it’s this audience-serving perspective that came through in almost everything he had to say; in his way of being. He didn’t mince words, or his feelings on literary fiction. When asked if he was interested in writing the next great novel—the next Moby Dick—Child replied “Sure, but did anyone read Moby Dick?” And it’s this attitude—of a book not truly existing until it’s been read; of a book not truly being great unless it is read—that could well be the secret sauce that has made him so successful.

It’s certainly his connection to his readers that inspired him to recently walk way from a lucrative movie deal. Talking about moving Reacher from film to TV, Child said that initially for him at least, the movies were peripheral—it was the books that mattered. But that seemed to change when he realized how unhappy his readers were that the hands-the-size-of-dinnerplates Reacher was portrayed by the normal, human-sized action movie actor of our generation, Tom Cruise. ‘I just felt I let the readers down. Readers wanted to see something closer to the books.’ And as to why he keeps writing a Reacher novel a year? He says it’s because he has an emotional contract with his readers. ‘I’m their servant.’

So, would I ever read a full Reacher novel? Well, I’m not going to be the first in the queue on release day to pick up the next one in the series. At least not yet. But—surprisingly, even to me—I will be adding Child to the top end of my holiday reading list. Partly because Child’s work is removed from the spheres of what I’d usually read (so wouldn’t in the slightest feel like work), but also because of how nice it was to see so many people engaged, enthusiastic and asking questions at an author event; how tempting the ultimate freedom fantasy of Jack Reacher is, and—most importantly—how genuine Child is with his audience.

Event attended and voluntarily reviewed by Emma Bryson

The latest in the Jack Reacher series is:
Past Tense
by Lee Child
Published by Penguin NZ
ISBN 9780593078204

Book Review: Night School, by Lee Child

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_night_school“In the morning they gave him a medal, and in the afternoon they sent him back to school.”

Night School is Lee Child’s twenty-first novel in the Jack Reacher collection. (It’s debatable about referring to the Reacher books as a series, as they’re not serial in Jack’s timeline. On Mr Child’s website On Mr Child’s website you will find  Jack’s chronological order for reading the titles, below the list of the titles in order of publication.) It is set in 1999. If Mr Child’s wanted to keep Jack Reacher fans happy, then this – his twenty-first Reacher book in the growing collection – has certainly achieved its purpose.

In Night School, Jack is made invisible by sending him to training school – where he finds two other ‘students’. All are invisible to personnel in the Military Police, the FBI and the CIA. The three agents are to work a clandestine investigation into all possible threats, reporting only to the National Security Advisor to the President, through his senior deputy Dr. Marian Sinclair who briefs them: An Iranian (a double agent) living with three Saudis in a safe house in Hamburg, has reported a message carried by a courier “The American wants one hundred million dollars”. Their job: to learn what is being offered, worth that price. There are two rules: Rule number two: talk to no one – except Sinclair. Rule number one: do not burn the Iranian asset. Reacher brings in Sergeant Frances Neagley, and heads to Hamburg to find out what they can.

Soon after arriving, they are called back to McLean, where they are briefed on a possible product – a Trojan virus has just appeared on the black market: it can override the patch coding for ensuring computer systems correctly handle the millennium clock change – the Y2K threat – and stop computer clocks at any moment. The team’s focus now is to track down who could be arranging that Trojan’s sale. Who more likely than a geek? And a convention of coders was held in Hamburg at the time of the message being reported. The team sift through records of Americans attending the convention, turning up one ex-pat American living in Hamburg. News comes in of a Hamburg police report from a witness to an agitated meeting between an American and a “middle-eastern” man. Tracking movements of American military moves, Reacher & Neagley discover three serving in Germany have gone AWOL – one for four months. Reacher & Neagley are ordered back to Hamburg, with pics of all american geeks for that witness to id.

The investigation continues, with Child giving snippets of the actions of other parties in the plot, building up the complexity of the case, and allowing readers to visualise locations and character, and foresee possible events – yet there are still surprises. Action scenes are defined crisply, with realistically timed reading pace matched with movement. Threats on the side build tension, and the engrossed reader will surmise the worst scenario possible; resist the urge.

All in all, a satisfying read, from the opening to the resolution. Reacher fans and new readers alike will become engrossed in this book, being released globally on November 7.

Reviewed by Lynne McAnulty-Street

Night School
by Lee Child
Published by Bantam Press
ISBN: 9780593073902

Words of the Day: Wednesday, 12 February



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Book Review: Never Go Back, by Lee Child

This book will be available in bookstores on Friday 30 August, in time for Father’s Day

I have been a fan of Jack Reacher books for a long time. You can always be guaranteed that Jack Reacher novels have lots of action with the inevitable good guy versus the bad guy/s.

One fascinating piece of information I found whImageen researching Lee Child, the author, is that Lee Child is actually his pen name. He was born Jim Grant. He started writing novels in 1997 with his first one being Killing Floor. Never Go Back is his eighteenth.

Jack Reacher was a former military cop. He starts out in this book, journeying from South Dakota to Virginia and then onto Washington D.C to visit his old unit, the 110th MP. He had earlier spoken to the new Commanding Officer, Susan Turner. Jack liked the sound of her voice and so had decided to pay her a visit, but on arriving at his old unit he found not Susan Turner in his old office, but somebody else – Colonel Morgan. We are then told the story of why the former Commanding Officer has been relieved of her posting. Reacher finds himself embroiled in criminal proceedings and back in the army. Colonel Morgan decides to have Reacher where he can keep tabs on him. “You’re back in the Army, Major. And your ass is mine.”

What Reacher doesn’t expect to happen, is that he is accused of a 16 year old homicide and named in a paternity suit. We follow Jack on his quest to get himself cleared of all charges, and through his ensuing friendship with Susan Turner. The way events unfold, as both of them are charged with crimes, makes for an enthralling tale.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. The twists and turns keeps the reader in suspense right to the end. Lee Child’s Jack Reacher story lines may seem to start and finish in a similar fashion, but I enjoy them. 

To all Jack Reacher fans – you will not be disappointed.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Never Go Back
by Lee Child
Published by Random House
ISBN 9780593065747