My father-in-law and I bonded years ago when he introduced me to the genre of action thrillers. It began when he loaned me a box full of the first 60 or so Remo Williams novels. I still remember that chapter two of each book began with “His name was Remo and . . .”
Our latest action hero has been Jack Reacher, the creation of British television writer Lee Child. Reacher (always Reacher in the series, never Jack) is an imaginative hero. He spent the first thirty-five years or so of his life on military bases. First, as a child of a soldier and then as a top military policeman. The hook is that Reacher, as a military policeman, is something like a super-cop. His targets were trained men, often devious, tough fighters without a moral code.
As he aged, he tired of his regimented life, quit the army, and became a wanderer. Reacher doesn’t even have a suitcase. He wears a set of clothes until it wears out, buys good quality English walking shoes, and carries an ATM card and a folding toothbrush. He is something of a cross between Dr. Richard Kimble (The Fugitive) and The Incredible Hulk. Big, tough, strong, and very street smart. He moves from place to place and gets involved in situations usually requiring his violent intervention.
All in all, it has been a highly enjoyable series. The kind of candy I yearned for while working on my dissertation. Upon finishing, I gorged on the likes of Reacher.
The latest, Nothing to Lose, lost me as a customer. Lee Child, the author, seems to have REALLY enjoyed the recent works of village atheists like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris. He seems to have enjoyed them so much that he had to come up with a highly improbable plot just to demonstrate how stupid he thinks Christians are. Oh, and along the way he manages to claim that nothing the American military has done since 1945 has been worth the price of men’s lives.
But Child’s little crusade against conservative protestants and American military efforts of the past sixty years wouldn’t have been enough to send me packing if the book weren’t so bad. The villain catches Reacher multiple times and somewhat inexplicably lets him go. The bad guy has a compound. Reacher spends the entire novel working his way in and out of the compound as he goes between two towns, Hope and Despair. On the one hand, the villain has put together an incredibly devious and ingenious plan to help bring about the apocalypse. On the other, Child (through Reacher) assures us that the villain is a weak-minded man who is accustomed to believing things that comfort him. It is profoundly boring, which is something I have never been remotely close to saying about any of the other books. It was literally an act of will for me to continue reading Nothing to Lose. I was determined to finish because I knew it would likely be the last run for Reacher and me.
Now, having finished, I’m sure of it. It was.
Hunter Baker is an assistant professor of political science at Houston Baptist University. His personal website is www.hunterbaker.wordpress.com. His book The End of Secularism will be published by Crossway in August 2009.