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.
… most of The Enemy concentrates on the widening military murder plot, and on defining Reacher as a determined enforcer. In a world full of changing boundaries and moral ambiguities, he emerges as a classic noir loner, and a very charismatic one, despite his willingness and ability to inflict damage on those who he thinks deserve it. It is worth underscoring that these books, while crackling with assertiveness, do not present Reacher as a loose cannon. They avoid the ugliness of an action hero with too free a hand.
The New York Times
The latest entry in what is arguably today's finest thriller series (Persuader, etc.) flashes back to series hero Jack Reacher's days in the military police. It's New Year's Eve 1990, the Soviet Union is about to collapse and the military is on tenterhooks, wondering how a changed globe will affect budgets and unit strengths, when the body of a two-star general is found in a motel near Fort Bird, N.C. Investigating is Reacher, 29, an MP major who's just been transferred from Panama-one of dozens of top MPs swapped into new posts on the same day, he later learns. Missing from the general's effects is a briefcase that, it's also revealed later, contained an agenda for a secret meeting of army honchos connected to an armored division. Then the general's wife is found bludgeoned to death at home and, soon after, a third body surfaces, of a slain gay Delta Force soldier whose murder contains clues pointing to Reacher as culprit. With Summer, a young black female lieutenant MP at his side (and, eventually, in his bed), Reacher digs deep, in his usual brilliant and violent way, butting against villainous superior officers, part of a grand conspiracy, as well as against members of Delta Force who think that Reacher killed their colleague. Unlike recent Reacher tales, the novel is as much mystery as thriller, as Reacher and Summer sift for and put together clues, but the tension is nonstop. There's a strong personal element as well, involving Reacher's relationship with his brother and dying mother, which will make the novel of particular interest to longstanding fans of the series. Textured, swift and told in Reacher's inimitably tough voice, this title will hit lists and will convince those who still need convincing that Child has few peers in thrillerdom. Agent, Darley Anderson. (May 11) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Child's growing legion of fans-eager to see what ex-military policeman Reacher (Persuader) will do next in the superlative suspense series-may be disappointed to find this eighth entry a prequel. But any letdown should be short-lived; Child is in fine form here, adding dimension to his protagonist that serves the series well. It is late 1989, and Reacher, then a 29-year-old special unit MP major, is suddenly transferred from Panama to a North Carolina base; he soon finds he's one of a score of such transfers. When a general en route to a conference dies in embarrassing circumstances at a nearby seedy motel, his wife is killed hours later, and two other murders follow, Reacher is on the move, seeking suspects and the missing conference agenda, which seems to be the key. Meanwhile, the Berlin Wall has just fallen, intraservice power struggles loom, fear of army force reduction is growing, and Reacher's mother, who hid a valiant background from her two sons, is dying of cancer in Paris. Reacher's family and the geopolitical backdrop add particular interest to the military setting; although it strains credulity to see suffer-no-fools loner Reacher in the army-insubordinate, operating independently, and taking justice into his own hands-Child's trademark smart story lines, crisp prose, and nonstop action with a slam-bang finish make this essential for popular fiction collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 2/15/04.]-Michele Leber, Arlington, VA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
The eighth Jack Reacher tale (Persuader, 2003, etc.) is a fabulously suspenseful prequel that reveals Reacher's character as he uncovers a homicidal cabal of military officers. On New Year's Eve 1990, Military Police Major Jack Reacher gets a call: a general is dead, evidently of a heart attack while having sex in a seedy motel near an isolated North Carolina Army base. The general and three subordinates had just arrived in the US from Germany and were en route to Fort Irwin, California. Why did the general take a 289-mile detour for a sleazy fling? Reacher crosses the road to a strip joint where he searches for the prostitute whose favors brought on the heart attack. After noticing other soldiers in the club, Reacher avenges a battered prostitute by beating up the joint's owner. Back at the base, Reacher gets another call: the general's wife has been bludgeoned to death during an apparent burglary of their Virginia home. Reacher teams up with Lieutenant Summer, an attractive, coolly competent black female MP, but finds few clues at the scene. Soon after, the hideously mutilated body of a Special Forces soldier whom Reacher saw at the strip joint is found. Not only had this soldier signed a complaint against Reacher about the fight at the club, but also his fatal injuries could have been inflicted only by a man of Reacher's strength and height. The Special Forces think Reacher killed him and have marked him for death. Then, suspense at its peak, Child takes Reacher and his brother Joe to Paris to visit their dying mother. Child merely touches on the mother-son relationship that has had so much to do with the rootless, brooding action hero Reacher has become. Then it's back to the action:another corpse, and uneasy undercurrents in Army bureaucracy that tell Reacher the post-USSR peace dividend will be anything but. Child has turned away from formulaic high-jinks to explore his characters instead: The result? His best so far.. . . Child, LincolnDEATH MATCHDoubleday (400 pp.)$24.95May 11, 2004
"A fabulously suspenseful prequel.... [Lee Child's] best so far."—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
"Textured, swift, and told in Reacher's inimitably tough voice … Child has few peers in thrillerdom."—Publishers Weekly, starred review
"The best showcase of Child's talent to date. .... one of the best thriller writers at work."—Rocky Mountain News
"The Enemy sizzles with suspense and action. Child sets a breathless pace."—Orlando Sentinel
"A rip-roaring read from the first page to the last ."—St. Petersburg Times
"[Jack Reacher is]. . .the thinking reader's action hero a surprisingly tender combination of chess master and G.I. Joe."—Seattle Times
"Will keep you guessing until the final page."—Playboy