The Fan Letter by Lee Child
They say the past is another country, and in my case it really was: provincial England at the end of the fifties and the start of the sixties, the last gasp of the post-war era, before it surrendered to the tectonic shift sparked by the Beatles. My family was neither rich nor poor, not that either condition had much meaning in a society with not much to buy and not much to lack. We accumulated toys at the rate of two a year: one on our birthdays, and one at Christmas. We had a big table radio (which we called "the wireless") in the dining room, and in the living room we had a black and white fishbowl television, full of glowing tubes, but there were only two channels, and they went off the air at ten in the evening, after playing the National Anthem, for which some families stood up, and sometimes we saw a double bill at the pictures on a Saturday morning, but apart from that we had no entertainment.
So we read books. As it happens I just saw some old research from that era which broke down reading habits by class (as so much was categorized in England at that time) and which showed that fully fifty percent of the middle class regarded reading as their main leisure activity. The figure for skilled workers was twenty-five percent, and even among laborers ten percent turned to books as a primary choice.
Not that we bought them. We used the library. Ours was housed in a leftover WW2 Nissen hut (the British version of a Quonset hut) which sat on a bombed-out lot behind a church. It had a low door and a unique warm, musty, dusty smell, which I think came partly from the worn floorboards and partly from the books themselves, of which there were not very many. I finished with the children's picture books by the time I was four, and had read all the chapter books by the time I was eight, and had read all the grown-up books by the time I was ten.
Not that I was unique - or even very bookish. I was one of the rough kids. We fought and stole and broke windows and walked miles to soccer games, where we fought some more. We were covered in scabs and scars. We had knives in our pockets - but we had books in our pockets too. Even the kids who couldn't read tried very hard to, because we all sensed there was more to life than the gray, pinched, post-war horizons seemed to offer. Traveling farther than we could walk in half a day was out of the question - but we could travel in our heads ... to Australia, Africa, America ... by sea, by air, on horseback, in helicopters, in submarines. Meeting people unlike ourselves was very rare ... but we could meet them on the page. For most of us, reading - and imagining, and dreaming - was as useful as breathing.
My parents were decent, dutiful people, and when my mother realized I had read everything the Nissen hut had to offer - most of it twice - she got me a library card for a bigger place the other side of the canal. I would head over there on a Friday afternoon after school and load up with the maximum allowed - six titles - which would make life bearable and get me through the week. Just. Which sounds ungrateful - my parents were doing their best, no question, but lively, energetic kids needed more than that time and place could offer. Once a year we went and spent a week in a trailer near the sea - no better or worse a vacation than anyone else got, for sure, but usually accompanied by lashing rain and biting cold and absolutely nothing to do.
The only thing that got me through one such week was Von Ryan's Express by David Westheimer. I loved that book. It was a WW2 prisoner-of-war story full of tension and suspense and twists and turns, but its biggest "reveal" was moral rather than physical - what at first looked like collaboration with the enemy turned out to be resistance and escape. I read it over and over that week and never forgot it.
Then almost forty years later, when my own writing career was picking up a head of steam, I got a fan letter signed by a David Westheimer. The handwriting was shaky, as if the guy was old. I wondered, could it be? I wrote back and asked, are you the David Westheimer? Turned out yes, it was. We started a correspondence that lasted until he died. I met him in person at a book signing I did in California, near his home, which gave me a chance to tell him how he had kept me sane in a rain-lashed trailer all those years ago. He said he had had the same kind of experience forty years before that. Now I look forward to writing a fan letter to a new author years from now ... and maybe hearing my books had once meant something special to him or her. Because that's what books do - they dig deeper, they mean more, they stick around forever.
The Barnes & Noble Review
The tenth installment of Lee Child's Jack Reacher saga (One Shot, The Enemy, Persuader, et al.) is quite possibly one of the best thrillers ever written. Featuring a hard-nosed hero that women want to be with and men want to be -- the 6'5", 250-pound former Army M.P. who "casts a small shadow and leaves very little in his wake" -- the plotline of The Hard Way is pure, unadulterated action, adventure, and attitude.
While waiting for an espresso at a New York City café, Jack Reacher watches a nondescript man get into a silver Mercedes-Benz and drive away. Reacher is unaware that he's just witnessed a perfectly executed ransom scheme that has netted a group of kidnappers a cool million dollars. The next day, Reacher is approached by the kidnappers' mark -- Edward Lane, the leader of a band of combat-hardened mercenaries -- who persuades Jack to help find Lane's abducted wife and daughter. Before he knows it, Reacher is thrust into a dangerous drama where no one is as they seem…
Written in short, emotionally charged chapters that all end with some kind of cliffhanger or plot twist, The Hard Way is virtually possible to put down. It's one of the most perfectly crafted thrillers genre fans will ever read. Brilliant characterization, impeccable pacing, and a masterfully intricate and flawlessly crafted story make this an absolute must-read. Paul Goat Allen
Reading Mr. Child is not only a mentally transporting experience but also, at times, a physical one. Don't be surprised to find your hand replicating the finger movements that tip off Reacher to a keypad matrix's four-digit combination.
The New York Times
Ex-army MP Jack Reacher is contracted by Edward Lane, the leader of a mercenary company, to track and recover Lane's kidnapped wife and daughter. But while Reacher is adept at finding people, this time he's got his work cut out for him, for in this case, the client seems to be just as suspect as the criminal. Hill narrates with a crisp, midrange baritone which effectively, if not spectacularly, conveys Child's prose. For the most part, Hill speaks naturally and clearly, but at times, he seems to exaggerate his enunciation, which results in some stilted passages. He doesn't alter his style much when shifting between dialogue and description, and so conversations are sometimes not as engaging as they could be. While Child's prose reads fine on the page, Hill's interpretation of it seems a bit too smug, which makes even the hero a bit unlikable. Hill's adequate performance will likely be sufficient for the casual audiobook listener but not for connoisseurs. Simultaneous release with the Delacorte hardcover (Reviews, Mar. 27). (May) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Jack Reacher may know the time to the minute without a watch and bring justice to bear wherever he goes, but this time he does it the hard way, sweating the details and working the clues. Because this time-despite his acute observation and intuition-he makes some wrong assumptions and a mistake that could turn tragic. Watching the passing scene over espresso in a New York caf , Reacher sees something that involves him in the kidnapping of Kate Lane, second wife of Edward Lane, whose first wife, Anne, was also kidnapped and killed, despite FBI efforts. Lane, rich from hiring out ex-military mercenaries, contracts with Reacher, who works covertly with private investigator Lauren Pauling, a retired FBI agent who had led the Anne Lane case. In his tenth outing (after One Shot), Reacher is humanized by both his mistakes-as he finds that both kidnappings are not what they seem-and his relationship with the fiftyish Pauling. Tension builds through plot twists to another riveting finish by Child, who shows again his mastery of the thriller. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 1/06.]-Michele Leber, Arlington, VA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
In this slick, swift, sexy thriller, it's Jack Reacher, the thinking man's Rambo, against a band of hand-picked, combat-hardened, armed-to-the-teeth, ex-special services guys, but, hey, there are only eight of them. We're talking Navy SEAL, Army Ranger, Green Beret, British SAS and the like, all now free from their savage services but never from their training. Which is to render people dead without wasted motion or mercy. They're commanded by an ex-U.S. Army colonel who has formed these wacko killers into a group called Operational Security Consultants (read mercenaries), and who may be considerably off-kilter himself. Reacher comes into contact with them all by happenstance. Sitting in a favorite cafe, sipping espresso, he notices something odd about a certain parked car-and is noticed noticing. What he's seen, it turns out, is a car full of ransom money. It belongs to ex-Colonel Edward Lane, whose wife and step-child-Kate and Jade-have been kidnapped. In Reacher's world, however, it's a truism that kidnappings are not always what they appear. Kate, Reacher soon learns, is not Lane's first wife. Nor is she his first wife to be kidnapped. Reacher learns this from a young woman with vengeance on her mind. For four years, Patti Joseph, the first Mrs. Lane's sister, has kept Lane under personal surveillance, convinced that he murdered her sister, intent on making him pay for it. From private eye Lauren Pauling-green-eyed and elegant-Reacher learns more about Lane, none of it redeeming. In and out of bed, Reacher and Pauling form an effective team, mounting a search-and-destroy operation that eventually takes them across the Atlantic to what amounts to an English O.K. Corral. QuintessentialChild (One Shot, 2005, etc.)-preposterous as always, but oh, how those pages keep turning.
From the Publisher
"A Reacher novel is the closest thing to guaranteed joy short of a honeymoon."—Rocky Mountain News
"Reacher, a former Army military police major, is a character like no other. Intuitive, independent, indomitable - he walks softly and carries a very big stick."—The Biloxi Sun Herald
"Plenty of suspense writers play the tough-guy-with-a-heart-of-gold card, but Child is indelibly skillful, quickly sketching intriguing characters as he drops bombshell after bombshell. With its taciturn but engaging hero and almost unbearably prolonged tension, The Hard Way makes reading easy indeed."—The Miami Herald
"In The Hard Way, Reacher is better than ever."—Contra Costa Times
"Fans...will find themselves hanging onto their armchairs for dear life. The Hard Way is a breathless, well-paced thriller."—Denver Post
“Nine red-hot books ago, Lee Child concocted the rough, tough Superman of the crime-busting genre, as smart and charismatic as he is unbeatable. And then Mr. Child broke the mold. Early next week (why delay good news?), Reacher returns in this series' 10th installment, The Hard Way. It's one more labyrinthine story that takes off like a shot: as usual, Mr. Child has you at hello.”—Janet Maslin, The New York Times
"Plunges Reacher into one of his most challenging-and thoroughly engrossing-adventures to date."—Publishers Weekly, starred review
"Like all the best thrillers, this one is about more than pacethe narrative propels you forward with a locomotive’s thrust, but Child never loses sight of the small detail or the human fabric."—Booklist, starred review
"[Child] shows again his mastery of the thriller.... Jack Reacher may know the time to the minute without a watch and bring justice to bear wherever he goes, but this time he doest it the hard way, sweating the details and working the clues.... Tension builds through the plot twists to another riveting finish."—Library Journal, starred review
Read an Excerpt
JACK REACHER ORDERED espresso, double, no peel, no cube, foam cup, no china, and before it arrived at his table he saw a man's life change forever. Not that the waiter was slow. Just that the move was slick. So slick, Reacher had no idea what he was watching. It was just an urban scene, repeated everywhere in the world a billion times a day: A guy unlocked a car and got in and drove away. That was all.
But that was enough.
The espresso had been close to perfect, so Reacher went back to the same cafeŽ exactly -twenty--four hours later. Two nights in the same place was unusual for Reacher, but he figured great coffee was worth a change in his routine. The café was on the west side of Sixth Avenue in New York City, in the middle of the block between Bleecker and Houston. It occupied the ground floor of an undistinguished -four--story building. The upper stories looked like anonymous rental apartments. The cafe itself looked like a transplant from a back street in Rome. Inside it had low light and scarred wooden walls and a dented chrome machine as hot and long as a locomotive, and a counter. Outside there was a single line of metal tables on the sidewalk behind a low canvas screen. Reacher took the same end table he had used the night before and chose the same seat. He stretched out and got comfortable and tipped his chair up on two legs. That put his back against the cafe's outside wall and left him looking east, across the sidewalk and the width of the avenue. He liked to sit outside in the summer, in New York City. Especially at night. He liked the electric darkness and the hot dirty air and the blasts of noise and traffic and the manic barking sirens and the crush of people. It helped a lonely man feel connected and isolated both at the same time.
He was served by the same waiter as the night before and ordered the same drink, double espresso in a foam cup, no sugar, no spoon. He paid for it as soon as it arrived and left his change on the table. That way he could leave exactly when he wanted to without insulting the waiter or bilking the owner or stealing the china. Reacher always arranged the smallest details in his life so he could move on at a split second's notice. It was an obsessive habit. He owned nothing and carried nothing. Physically he was a big man, but he cast a small shadow and left very little in his wake.
He drank his coffee slowly and felt the night heat come up off the sidewalk. He watched cars and people. Watched taxis flow north and garbage trucks pause at the curbs. Saw knots of strange young people heading for clubs. Watched girls who had once been boys totter south. Saw a blue German sedan park on the block. Watched a compact man in a gray suit get out and walk north. Watched him thread between two sidewalk tables and head inside to where the cafe staff was clustered in back. Watched him ask them questions.
The guy was medium height, not young, not old, too solid to be called wiry, too slight to be called heavy. His hair was gray at the temples and cut short and neat. He kept himself balanced on the balls of his feet. His mouth didn't move much as he talked. But his eyes did. They flicked left and right tirelessly. The guy was about forty, Reacher guessed, and furthermore Reacher guessed he had gotten to be about forty by staying relentlessly aware of everything that was happening around him. Reacher had seen the same look in elite infantry veterans who had survived long jungle tours.
Then Reacher's waiter turned suddenly and pointed straight at him. The compact man in the gray suit stared over. Reacher stared back, over his shoulder, through the window. Eye contact was made. Without breaking it the man in the suit mouthed thank you to the waiter and started back out the way he had entered. He stepped through the door and made a right inside the low canvas screen and threaded his way down to Reacher's table. Reacher let him stand there mute for a moment while he made up his mind. Then he said "Yes," to him, like an answer, not a question.
"Yes what?" the guy said back.
"Yes whatever," Reacher said. "Yes I'm having a pleasant evening, yes you can join me, yes you can ask me whatever it is you want to ask me."
The guy scraped a chair out and sat down, his back to the river of traffic, blocking Reacher's view.
"Actually I do have a question," he said.
"I know," Reacher said. "About last night."
"How did you know that?" The guy's voice was low and quiet and his accent was flat and clipped and British.
"The waiter pointed me out," Reacher said. "And the only thing that distinguishes me from his other customers is that I was here last night and they weren't."
"You're certain about that?"
"Turn your head away," Reacher said. "Watch the traffic."
The guy turned his head away. Watched the traffic.
"Now tell me what I'm wearing," Reacher said.
"Green shirt," the British guy said. "Cotton, baggy, cheap, doesn't look new, sleeves rolled to the elbow, over a green T-shirt, also cheap and not new, a little tight, untucked over -flat--front khaki chinos, no socks, English shoes, pebbled leather, brown, not new, but not very old either, probably expensive. Frayed laces, like you pull on them too hard when you tie them. Maybe indicative of a -self--discipline obsession."
"OK," Reacher said.
"You notice things," Reacher said. "And I notice things. We're two of a kind. We're peas in a pod. I'm the only customer here now who was also here last night. I'm certain of that. And that's what you asked the staff. Had to be. That's the only reason the waiter would have pointed me out."
The guy turned back.
"Did you see a car last night?" he asked.
"I saw plenty of cars last night," Reacher said. "This is Sixth Avenue."
"A Mercedes Benz. Parked over there." The guy twisted again and pointed on a slight diagonal at a length of empty curb by a fire hydrant on the other side of the street.
Reacher said, "Silver, four-door sedan, an S-420, New York vanity plates starting OSC, a lot of city miles on it. Dirty paint, scuffed tires, dinged rims, dents and scrapes on both bumpers."
The guy turned back again.
"You saw it," he said.
"It was right there," Reacher said. "Obviously I saw it."
"Did you see it leave?"
Reacher nodded. "Just before eleven -forty--five a guy got in and drove it away."
"You're not wearing a watch."
"I always know what time it is."
"It must have been closer to midnight."
"Maybe," Reacher said. "Whatever."
"Did you get a look at the driver?"
"I told you, I saw him get in and drive away."
The guy stood up.
"I need you to come with me," he said. Then he put his hand in his pocket. "I'll buy your coffee."
"I already paid for it."
"So let's go."
"To see my boss."
"Who's your boss?"
"A man called Lane."
"You're not a cop," Reacher said. "That's my guess. Based on observation."
"Your accent. You're not American. You're British. The NYPD isn't that desperate."
"Most of us are Americans," the British guy said. "But you're right, we're not cops. We're private citizens."
"The kind that will make it worth your while if you give them a description of the individual who drove that car away."
"Worth my while how?"
"Financially," the guy said. "Is there any other way?"
"Lots of other ways," Reacher said. "I think I'll stay right here."
"This is very serious."
The guy in the suit sat down again.
"I can't tell you that," he said.
"Goodbye," Reacher said.
"Not my choice," the guy said. "Mr. Lane made it -mission--critical that nobody knows. For very good reasons."
Reacher tilted his cup and checked the contents. Nearly gone.
"You got a name?" he asked.
In response the guy stuck a thumb into the breast pocket of his suit coat and slid out a black leather business card holder. He opened it up and used the same thumb to slide out a single card. He passed it across the table. It was a handsome item. Heavy linen stock, raised lettering, ink that still looked wet. At the top it said: Operational Security Consultants.
"OSC," Reacher said. "Like the license plate."
The British guy said nothing.
Reacher smiled. "You're security consultants and you got your car stolen? I can see how that could be embarrassing."
The guy said, "It's not the car we're worried about."
Lower down on the business card was a name: John Gregory. Under the name was a subscript: British Army, Retired. Then a job title: Executive Vice President.
"How long have you been out?" Reacher asked.
"Of the British Army?" the guy called Gregory said. "Seven years."
"You've still got the look."
"You too," Gregory said. "How long have you been out?"
"Seven years," Reacher said.
"U.S. Army CID, mostly."
Gregory looked up. Interested. "Investigator?"
"I don't remember," Reacher said. "I've been a civilian seven years."
"Don't be shy," Gregory said. "You were probably a lieutenant colonel at least."
"Major," Reacher said. "That's as far as I got."
"I had my share."
"You got a name?"
"Most people do."
"What is it?"
"What are you doing now?"
"I'm trying to get a quiet cup of coffee."
"You need work?"
"No," Reacher said. "I don't."
"I was a sergeant," Gregory said.
Reacher nodded. "I figured. SAS guys usually are. And you've got the look."
"So will you come with me and talk to Mr. Lane?"
"I told you what I saw. You can pass it on."
"Mr. Lane will want to hear it direct."
Reacher checked his cup again. "Where is he?"
"Not far. Ten minutes."
"I don't know," Reacher said. "I'm enjoying my espresso."
"Bring it with you. It's in a foam cup."
"I prefer peace and quiet."
"All I want is ten minutes."
"Seems like a lot of fuss over a stolen car, even if it was a Mercedes Benz."
"This is not about the car."
"So what is it about?"
"Life and death," Gregory said. "Right now more likely death than life."
Reacher checked his cup again. There was less than a lukewarm -eighth--inch left, thick and scummy with espresso mud. That was all. He put the cup down.
"OK," he said. "So let's go."