I’ve been reading a lot of Lee Child lately. Not because I was so inspired by the movie, Jack Reacher, which was serviceable but not extraordinary in any way. Rather, I’ve been reading Child’s work because I want to try and tease out The Secret that he seems to have grasped with such alacrity. As I have mentioned elsewhere, Child has sold in excess of 50 million books, which means he’s sitting on a mountain of money somewhere in a stately mansion. If I could earn even one percent of that, I’d be thrilled.
So I’ve been reading, and reading with a purpose. This may mean that I enjoy the books a little less because I’m viewing them with such a critical eye for the details of craft, but I’m willing to sacrifice entertainment for knowledge. What I’ve learned I haven’t quite understood, but I have learned some things.
The most surprising thing I’ve gleaned from reading these Jack Reacher novels is that even though they have a reputation for being twisty, thrill-a-minute books, very little actually goes on in them. In fact, Child is a master at dragging things out well beyond the point where most people would give up. How he does this is a mystery me, but he does do it.
Take Die Trying, which I’m reading right now. I’m just a hair over a hundred pages into the book and only three things have happened: Jack Reacher is taken captive and driven around in the back of a panel van for hours, Jack Reacher spends the night in a barn and Jack Reacher gets put back into the panel van for more driving. Sure, there’s dialogue and whatnot during all of this, but from a plot standpoint the book is positively motionless. In fact, some scenes involving the FBI’s investigation into the initial abduction (there’s an FBI agent mixed up in all of this) involve supporting characters watching a video depicting things we already read, so not only is very little going on, but it’s going on repeatedly.
Despite all of this, Die Trying sold millions. How? I haven’t the foggiest notion.
Killing Floor was the same way. There was a lot of characters sort of meandering around inside the story, bumping up against narrative dead ends, until finally a rushed couple of scenes polished off the main bad guys (which we hardly knew) and concluded the book. End result? Millions sold.