A new "Jack Reacher" novel comes out this week. The Sentinel is the 25th Reacher novel and the first written by Andrew Child aka Andrew Grant, the younger brother of series creator Lee Child aka James Grant. A Jack Reacher book is always a fun bit of annual escapism, violent thriller comfort food- and with a streaming series adaptation currently in development (with Titans star Alan Ritchson), there's more attention than ever on the franchise.
There's a reason Jack Reacher is the bestselling thriller series in the world, totaling over 100 million copies sold with two movies starring Tom Cruise and an upcoming TV series from Amazon Studios. He's an updated fantasy of the wandering loner hero. He's freer than James Bond, who's often a representative of the British government and beholden to them. Reacher answers to nobody. He's totally free to hitchhike across America and chooses to get involved in people's problems because he feels like it. He's driven by a sense of morality to help the bullied and the exploited and feels no remorse in killing bad people because they're the worst people out there. He has no problem with wiping out an entire town of human traffickers.
The books are often modern westerns where Reacher is the stranger who shows up to clean up a dirty town. Child created Reacher to be the perfect story generator, a character who can be inserted in any situation. You could say Jack Reacher, in 24 books to date, is the most prolific serial killer in the history of crime fiction. He kills at least half a dozen people in each novel. He is the fantasy of the righteous sociopath who kills the bad people. His brand of might-makes-right vigilantism has been labeled by one critic as "artisanal fascism", though he tends to lean liberal in his worldview.
He likes and respects strong, proactive women, supports the rights of LGBTQ people, and defends them when needed. He seems to have OCD about bullies and bad guys. He really likes putting them down whether they're male or female. He doesn't care if they're bar bullies, gangsters, dirty cops, dirty military, rapists, abusers, serial killers, industrialists, or politicians. If they're evil, he'll kill them. He has a type: assholes.
Jack Reacher: A Fantasy of Freedom and Escape
A few weeks ago, I started to think about how Jack Reacher would cope with the Pandemic. As someone who's often on the road in the middle of nowhere, he might miss news about the lockdown and the need to wear masks. He might get infected from one of the drivers he hitches a ride from and ends up dying on the side of the road before he can get to a hospital, forgotten and alone. That might be how Child could have ended him if he was still writing him now. Child had actually considered killing off Reacher a few books ago in an explosion. He was ready to wind down the series and retire from writing full time, moving on to work on the upcoming TV series from Amazon Studios before deciding to hand the reigns of the series to his brother Andrew.
Then I realized, no, Jack Reacher is too tough to be brought down by the Coronavirus. He's a fiction, and fictional heroes are built to last unless and until their original authors decide otherwise. Child didn't kill off Reacher probably because his publishers and his fans didn't want him to. After all, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle tried to kill off Sherlock Holmes only for fan demand to force him to reverse that decision. Child must have been fully aware of that history.
So Jack Reacher is a character who transcends the Pandemic. He's above it and beyond it as only fiction can be. The Sentinel looks set to be an even bigger piece of escapist fantasy than ever even though it was written before our current Quarantine Life. He gets to hitchhike, get up close and personal to the people he's going to beat up and maim, do the manly heroic thing, sleep with the heroine, and move on, hitchhiking on the open road with not a care in the world. He can escape where we can't, and we'll live vicariously through him.