Thursday, April 13, 2017

Some notes on the Jack Reacher books--men's adventure for women, and on Jock Scratcher

Women buy anywhere from 58%-64% of all books. For some genres that number is even higher—as much as 90% for romance novels, for instance, and around that number for erotica. So if you’re going to have a bestseller, it helps to appeal to women.

That is a big part of the genius of Lee Child. In the Jack Reacher books, he’s written men’s adventure novels for women. (Check out the Goodreads reviews of the Jack Reacher books and see how many of them are written by women.)

Jack Reacher is, like the Executioner, a drifter, going from town-to-town, and getting involved in one adventure after another. However, he’s not a brooding, rage-filled masochist who’s on a mission to avenge his family’s death at the hands of mobsters.

Reacher just doesn’t want to be tied down.

My friend Ed Gorman once told me a story of how he was invited to take a stab at writing an Executioner novel. In the ‘70s and ‘80s the Executioner books sold fantastically well, and publishing at a rate of one per month. They were formulaic, of course: Mack Bolan goes into a town and destroys it in his quest for revenge against mobsters, terrorists, what have you.

Ed wrote the first three chapters of a proposed novel. In the first chapter there’s a scene in which Bolan, in Miami, watches an attractive young woman get out of the pool, wearing just a skimpy bikini. Bolan notices how attractive she is. The editor called Ed and said this won’t do—the Executioner is driven by vengeance because his family died. Ed pointed out that the Executioner’s family had died ten years before. Eventually he’s going to start noticing attractive women again. It's human nature.

No, the editor said. The Executioner is focused. On vengeance. HE'S NOT HUMAN!

Jack Reacher is, by comparison, very human.

When Reacher travels to a new town, generally on a whim, he often drifts into the life of an attractive young woman, say, 28-35, who is a highly competent professional who has succeeded in life on her own terms. She might be in military or intelligence or private security or whatever—she’s Reacher’s equal intellectually and usually in experience. Or she’s on her way.

And here comes Reacher, an enormous, attractive man who doesn’t make plans. He helps the woman with whatever problem she’s having or investigation she’s spearheading. Along the way they become romantically entangled. Then, Reacher leaves town. She remains behind or goes back to the normal life she’s built for herself, to her highly successful career. (The exception is 2015’s Make Me, in which Reacher and his love interest, Michelle Chang, seem to take to the road together at the end of the book. Is Reacher going to “settle down”? Readers are still hanging on that particular cliffhanger, since the 2016 novel, Night School, was a flashback.)

Attractive, muscular, mysterious drifter blows into town. Meets attractive, professional, highly competent woman. They have a whirlwind romance and share an exciting adventure.

That is the plot of every other romance novel ever written. Almost every Jack Reacher book takes the romance novel template and grafts it onto a men’s adventure book. Jack Reacher isn’t an emotionally damaged sadist. Yes, he’s not shy about killing people, but all the people he kills have it coming. He’s not twisted by a desire to revenge or vengeance. He’s seen a lot of death from his military days onward, but it hasn’t scarred him. He’s a practical guy who doesn’t want to live a nine-to-five life. Doesn’t want to be tied down. He doesn’t play emotional games—he’s totally open and honest about “not making plans.” The women accept that. They’re intrigued by Reacher.

They sleep with Reacher.

Some of the sex scenes are—well, uhm. Here’s a little something from The Affair:

“We stood up again and kissed again. By that point in my life I had kissed hundreds of girls, but I was ready to admit Deveraux was the finest of them all. She was spectacular. She moved and quivered and trembled. She was strong, but gentle. Passionate, but not aggressive. Hungry, but not demanding. The clock in my head took a break. We had all the time in the world, and we were going use every last minute of it.” (Chapter 43)

There are a couple of pages of breathless undressing moving lower and “coming up for air” before we get to this:

“Then it was time. We started tenderly. Long and slow, long and slow. Deep and easy. She flushed and gasped. So did I. Long and slow, long and slow.

Then faster and harder.

Then we were panting.

Faster. harder, faster, harder.

Panting…” (Chapter 43)

This is romance novel stuff.

There’s also some fighting. Reacher survives on his wits and his understanding of human nature. This understanding is often—well, it’s questionable. Take this from Never Go Back:

“Whereupon he saw the two guys take up what he assumed were their combat stances, and then he saw them change radically. Tell a guy you’re going to fight with your hands behind your back, and he hears jut that, and only that. He thinks, This guy is going to fight with his hands behind his back! And then he pictures the first few seconds in his mind, and the image is so weird it takes over his attention completely. No hands! An unprotected torso! Just like the heavy bag at the gym!” (Chapter 37)

I haven’t been in too many fights in my day, I’ll admit. But if some boner told me he was going to fight me and my buddy, while keeping his hands in his pockets, my first thought would be “I’m going to take your legs out from under you, you dummy, and kick the crud out of you.” But not in Reacher’s world. In Reacher’s world, the rednecks he’s fighting, well, they picture the first few seconds in their mind, get distracted, and then Reacher TAKES THEM OUT!

There’s another scene in another Reacher book (sorry I can’t remember which one) in which Reacher pushes a door open with his foot because, according to him, it’s human nature to crane your neck around an open door to see why it opened. So when the armed villain does just that, Reacher TAKES HIM OUT!

There are also lots of chatty villains who make bad decisions. At one point in Make Me, some villains have Reacher and Chang and the family of a young man that they’re trying to find trapped at gunpoint in the family’s home. But they don’t know which of the three they’re supposed to kill, so instead of just killing them all, the villains—uhm, well:

“We could kill you all. That would guarantee the correct result… But it would be five dead for the price of three. And that price was agreed upfront. Count your change before you leave the store. No renegotiation after the fact…”


The guy looked at Evan, and said, “What do you do for a living?”

Evan started once, and started again, and got it out the third time around. He said, “I’m a doctor.”

“Do you work for free?”

“No, I guess I don’t.”

“Dumb question, right? Doctors working for free?”

“Some doctors work for free.”

“But not you, right?”

“No, I guess not.”

“Do you think I should work for free?”

Evan breathed in, breathed out, floundering.

The guy said, “Doctor, it’s a simple question. I’m not seeking a medical opinion. Do you think I should work for free? When you don’t?” (Chapter 41)

And so on. And after all of that the hired killers not only don’t kill their intended targets, Reacher TAKES THEM OUT!

As you might be able to guess from the above, the Reacher novels are full of padding. There’s a lot of dialogue written in a clipped style so that, at least superficially it appears that Child is using very spare language. (One of the blurbs that they keep using on the Reacher books is this from the Chicago Tribune: “Child builds suspense in a deceptively spare, wiry prose style that doesn’t waste a word or miss a trick.” We’ve heard of #FakeNews— that is a #FakeBlurb.) There’s a lot of this kind of thing, from Bad Luck and Trouble:

“O’Donell’s lock was broken.

Or, more accurately, O’Donnell’s lock was OK, but the door jamb was broken. The wood was splintered. Someone had used a wrecking bar or a tire iron to lever the door open.” (Chapter 70)

First the narrator, who should know, says the look was broken. States it unequivocally. Then he says that the lock wasn’t broken. In the VERY NEXT SENTENCE he says the lock was OK. This is a bizarre example of the “unreliable narrator,” and this was done to, I don’t know—try to create suspense?

Reacher’s coolness under pressure, his ability to intuit every move an opponent makes before they do (except when he can’t, as necessitated by plot considerations), his success with attractive and successful women, and his ability to live a life totally unencumbered by responsibility aren’t the only things about him that male readers can find aspirational. Reacher also doesn’t have to work out to keep his physique, and he eats whatever the hell he wants without gaining any weight. He drinks a ton of coffee and eats a lot of cheeseburgers.

Anyway. I’ve written a parody of the Jack Reacher books called MELEE CHILD: A JOCK SCRATCHER THRILLER. It is about half as dumb as a Jack Reacher book, and has twice as many laughs. And unlike the Reacher books, the laughs in Melee Child are all intentional. It’s available from Amazon in both a $2.99 ebook and an $8.99 paperback.

It has a really cool cover:

Here’s some more information:

Former elite military intelligence police officer Jock Scratcher lives the life of a drifter, traveling from town to town, staring danger right in the face, and then head-butting it. And kicking it in the groin. And drinking plenty of cups of coffee and bacon. But now, a sinister plot has forced Scratcher to give up his itinerant life in exchange for a nine-to-five office job and a three-bedroom house in the suburbs. It’s pure hell for a man of action.

Even worse: Scratcher is on a collision course with the Melee Child, a three month-old baby who happens to be Eastern Europe’s deadliest assassin, leaving a trail of dead bodies and dirty diapers in his wake.

Also, Russians hacked the presidential election. That’s a totally real thing that actually happened.

Melee Child is an intense thriller with danger at every turn. Before it reaches its senses-shattering conclusion, Scratcher will race against time to uncover the most startling truth that will have him questioning just who he can trust—and who he can romance.

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