Today I’m delighted to join the blog tour to celebrate the paperback publication of The Reacher Guy by Heather Martin. I first heard both the author and Lee Child in conversation about this book last year and jumped at the opportunity to join the tour. My thanks to the author for sending me a copy of the book for review and to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me to join in. Here’s the all important book stuff.
About the Book
Lee Child is the enigmatic powerhouse behind the phenomenally successful Jack Reacher novels. With devoted fans across the globe, and over a hundred million copies of his books sold in more than forty languages, he is that rarity, a writer who is both critically acclaimed and adored by readers. And yet curiously little has been written about the man himself.
The Reacher Guy shows us for the first time the young man behind the invention of Jack Reacher. Through parallels drawn between Child and his literary creation, it tells the story of how a lost and lonely boy from Birmingham with a ferocious appetite for reading grew up to become a high-flying TV executive, before coming full circle and establishing himself as an internationally bestselling author.
Heather Martin explores Child’s lifelong fascination with America – and shows how the Reacher novels fed and fuelled this obsession. Drawing on exclusive correspondence and conversations with Child over a number of years, she forensically pieces together his life, from Northern Ireland and County Durham to New York and Hollywood. This is the definitive account of the man behind one of the most iconic series of our times.
I’m not even going to try and lie – I’ve not really read many Jack Reacher stories. A handful of short stories, I’ve got copies of some of the books, but it’s one of those times when you look at the sheer scale of the series, realise you are about seventeen years behind (I took a reading hiatus of practically 17 years that spans a huge majority of Reacher’s life and adventures) and get a little … hesitant. I have literally no excuse other than fear as I know from the few times I have met Reacher, the books are right up my street. I have, however, been to quite a few literary festivals where Lee Child has been a featured author and, as a speaker, an author, I find his story, his style and his attitude very engaging and completely fascinating. Having now read this biography I am even more intrigued and even more certain I really need to fit Jack Reacher into my reading plans very, very soon.
This is the story of James Dover Grant, known to the majority of the world as Lee Child. From his early days, and before, school days, work history and to the Jack Reacher series and beyond, Heather Martin provides readers with a comprehensive history of the people, events and opportunities that shaped his life, and led to the creation of one of perhaps the most iconic and well known characters in recent fictional history. Even non readers will likely have heard of Jack Reacher, courtesy of the Tom Cruise film adaptations, but it is readers who have taken Reacher and his author to their hearts and readers who are very likely to eat up the soon to be released TV adaptation. But what of the man behind the all action hero? Well, to be honest, it is easy to see from this biography where a lot of the inspiration for Reacher’s character came from, and it is in highlighting these similarities, and obvious contrasts, between author and character that Heather Martin’s book really drew me in.
This is not a perfectly linear journey from birth to retirement. Incorporating interviews with friends, teachers, and colleagues, Heather Martin charts the life of Lee Child, but not necessarily in order. The book explores the many ways in which Lee Child’s family life and upbringing, born in Coventry but absolutely identifying as a Birmingham boy, came to inform his career choices and his singular determination as to how his life would progress. This is not a man who waited for opportunity to find him, he made things happen. Caring for his family was always his priority and making the moves in his career that would elevate his status, and therefore their security, the only natural thing to do. I’m not convinced he’d win awards for best parent to child guidance, but I’m sure his daughter appreciated his more relaxed approach to the subject.
Following redundancy he decided he was going to write a best selling airport style novel, most decidedly not literary in style, and that’s exactly what he did. He also comes across as someone who very much knows his own mind and seldom deviates from his beliefs, but it made for a book that is both serious and humorous in equal measure. The stories of his school days at King Edward’s Grammar School in Birmingham read like you would probably expect, giving a good insight into the nature of the boy who would become the man. How much of what we read is exactly true … well you’ll have to judge for yourself. As the author and her interviewees tell us many times, once Jim recounts a story, it simply becomes true.
The book is well researched and brilliantly presented. There are so many fascinating moments, so many was in which you are able to draw parallels between Jim Grant and his literary creation, that it makes for the perfect read for any Reacher fan. There is a lot of detail on the pre-Reacher years, so if you just want to know about the books, about how Jim Grant came up with the character and the pen name of Lee Child, something that is surprisingly simple but effective in reality, then you will need to bear in mind that this part of the author’s life is perhaps not covered in such intense detail as you may be expecting. But it is all there, the progression from deciding to write, to getting that first deal, to the ongoing challenges of being an author in a world that generally derided genre authors. Even the business like, if somewhat unpopular, calculation of the risks or potential benefits of having Tom Cruise bring his larger (?) than life character to the screen.
But for me, understanding the bigger picture, the love of Aston Villa, his growing love of the USA and waning affections for the UK, made the book all the more interesting and the author himself, all the more human. Hearing the passages in his own voice, the matter of fact style, tinges with cynicism and occasionally weariness, really bring Jim Grant/Lee Child’s story to life. I think Heather Martin has done a perfect job of presenting the man in a way that reads almost like a cross between a literary study and a work of fiction, parts of Child’s life seeming that incredible. It’s a long book – 500 pages – so it’s an investment of your time, but it’s the kind of book you can easily break down, a chapter at a time, and take your time reading and digesting. For me it was completely worth it. I appreciate both author and subject all the more for it, for the time they have taken and the honesty they’ve offered on the page. I was truly engaged, thoroughly entertained at times too. And it’s made me go out and buy a few more of that Reacher back catalogue too. That can’t be a bad thing now can it?
About the Author
Heather Martin (author photo © Brian Aris) was born in West Australia. She grew up in Aix-en-Provence, Paris, and Perth, where she would fall asleep to the sound of the Indian Ocean. She left Australia for England to become a classical guitarist but found herself singing with a Venezuelan folk group and learning to speak Spanish instead. She read Languages at Cambridge, where she also did a PhD in comparative literature, and has held teaching and research positions at Cambridge, Hull, King’s College London, and most recently, the Graduate Center, City University New York. Heather is a long-time Reacher fan. While waiting to get her hands on the next in the series, she once read a Lee Child book in Spanish and wound up writing to the author about the fate of his character in translation. ‘The Reacher Guy’ is her first biography.
Lee Child comments: “I met Heather Martin some years ago, and we started talking about why people love telling and hearing stories. To get more depth and detail we started talking about why I do. Eventually I said, ‘If you want to really get to the bottom of it, you’re going to have to write my biography.’ So she did. It was a fun and illuminating process. I had forgotten a lot, and it was fascinating to be reminded. Now it all makes sense.”
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