Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The Enemy by Lee Child

I'm surprised that I liked this story by Lee Child. It's not your typical Military Action/Murder Mystery. Sure, it has all of the usual elements: a death on the first page, a sidekick, a love interest, plot twists, and an adroit hero. It's all in there. But there's also something subtly unique about this novel.

The hero is named Jack Reacher. He's fairly independent, selfish, benevolent, rational, and otherwise principled. Sure, it could be said that all action heros are that way, but I would have to disagree. Many are undercut by bad premises, especially by hedonism, or more specifically a wanton disregard for lasting values and a kind of self-centeredness that looks more like solipsistic vanity than real self-interest. As far as I could tell from one reading, that's not Reacher.

His character in some ways resembles Captain Mal, the hero of the made-for-cable series named Firefly.

Both men can and will do precisely what must be done in the most impossible situations, and not after taking an opinion poll or considering their advancement in some kind of bureaucracy; they just do it and remarkably don't ask questions later. Both men tend to think through issues one or two steps ahead of their companions, but they also value the benefits they gain from their best companions, and they show it. Both men, within the privacy of their own souls, remain aware of doing the right thing, which you see especially when the men are alone, under duress. In short, both men are moralists, and that makes them essentially Romantic characters.

I've heard that Child's novels are unique in another way: they attract more female readers than any other Military/Action-type of literature. It's also not surprising that a lot of women adored Firefly's Captain Mal, a somewhat unusual fact in the Sci-fi Action genre. I'm not entirely sure why.

Despite a few minor flaws, Child's command of the craft of writing impressed me throughout. His narrative flows very smoothly. Touches of setting, history, time changes, and other kinds of exposition come and go almost unnoticed yet still leave a strong enough impression. I should say that his style is nothing like mine. His prose doesn't milk very many emotions, but it gets the job done, which is the right style for this kind of fiction.

I have not read any other Jack Reacher novel, so I can't endorse the entire series. You can try this one first without reading the others. I recommend it.

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