The Reacher Guy by Heather Martin
This is the authorised biography of Lee Child, real name Jim Grant, and I think it certainly could claim to be the definitive volume on the man who created Jack Reacher. This book stretches from the lives of his grandparents to the final paragraph of the book “Blue Moon”, the twenty fourth Reacher novel that he has written. It looks at the places Grant has lived in, the schools he attended, the friends and relatives that he has known. It looks at the influences on his writing by using quotations from the books throughout, as well as his own comments from various interviews and events. This is a confidently written book, as Martin handles her wealth of information well. After all, this is a man whose life is well documented and continues to be an open story; the boy born in Coventry with a modestly paid civil servant father has become a CBE in June 2019. One of his often repeated comments is that “Writing a book is easier than digging a ditch”, yet it is clear that he has put in the effort into each book as a separate endeavour. This is a huge book, the distillation of a huge effort to follow up every lead of interest, and I was interested to read and review the story behind an immensely popular series of novels.
The book contains two sets of photographs which feature Grant as growing from a small boy through teenage years, working at Granada television as a producer, to a writer setting his stories in various small towns across America. Many photographs are discussed, ranging from the portrait of Grant as a small boy with his two grandfathers to the final picture which shows Grant at home in Central Park West in the reflection of a mirror. There are also two montages of Grant’s twenty four important places throughout his life, with details about when he lived or worked there. The book goes into detail about these important places, beginning with the library in Otley, which was the home of his grandparents and an important destination during his childhood. The first chapter begins to look at how Grant taught himself to read early, and throughout the book it is made plain that he was in many ways academically gifted, a fact that he did not exploit on several occasions. He gained a scholarship to King Edward’s school in the Midlands, a prestigious school that usually channeled boys to Oxbridge, but which failed to enthuse the teenage Grant to that much effort. He was known for his size and his ability to physically enforce his decisions, his height and quiet determination. There are ways in which his character Reacher resembles him physically, being tall and able to cope with challenges. Extensive quotations from the books echo the images that are consistent throughout all the novels, someone who sweeps into a town, discovers the injustices and crimes that preoccupy the area, and rights the wrongs. This often involves judicious use of violence, though it is restrained in most cases. Quotations from Grant acknowledge the similarity between the books, but as Martin says, “He’d never forgotten his father saying he looked for books that were ‘the same but different’”, the sense of pleasure of knowing what was on offer in the books even if the setting and details were different.
This book is not a simple tribute to a successful author who found his lucrative niche from early on. It acknowledges Grant’s tricky relationship with his parents, the small betrayals, the different treatment he received from them compared with his older brother. It talks of his various talents in music, drama and other fields, and his choice to write in order to provide for his wife and child. He emerges as a man who knows what he wants, and is prepared to work for it, even if he professes himself to be amazed that people are interested in his archives which have been donated to a British University. Fans of the Reacher novels will find much to interest them in this book. Others will appreciate the social and personal history of a man of the second half of the twentieth and early twentieth century. It is a carefully and fully worked out book of a writer and his background, the creator of literary character who has proved to be popular with so many people who are perhaps not seen as typical readers.