*Be sure to find out how to win your own copy of The Jack Reacher Field Guide: An Unofficial Companion to Lee Childs Reacher Novels below the review!
Like many filmgoers, I was introduced to the character Jack Reacher in late 2012 when I saw Jack Reacher staring Tom Cruise. Not a consistent reader of the thriller genre, I was, however, aware of Lee Child’s name, because I would regularly see at least one (or more) of his books prominently displayed on the bestseller shelf at the local bookstore and his paperbacks in the local grocery store on the magazine rack. I took from the movie that Reacher was enigmatic, intense, and deadly; I wanted to know more! Thanks to Smart Pop and BenBella Books, they have just released George Beahm’s The Jack Reacher Field Guide: An Unofficial Companion to Lee Child’s Reacher Novels.
The book is divided into three parts, each focusing on the author, the character, and concludes with web resources and lists. Readers will be able to read a biography of the Englishman Child, who at a very young age, developed a love affair with America. It’s an interest that was fueled many years later when he read John D. MacDonald’s The Lonely Silver Rain, which inspired Child to develop a template for his own Reacher novels. A few years later, he purchased six dollars worth of supplies, sat down, and in four months, he wrote in long-hand his first novel, The Killing Floor (1997). And, like clockwork, Child has churned out one novel a year since, with the twenty-first due out later this year. It was six dollars well spent!
For readers who are aspiring writers, then take note: the first section will provide insight into Child’s regimented writing ethos. Writing for six months starting each September, Child delivers a completed manuscript by March that will go through the editing process, typeset, and eventual release in September, just in time to take advantage of the holiday season when most books are bought to give as gifts to oneself or for family and friends. For Child, he keeps it simple; in writing, he follows the “less is more” (xv) and “same but different” (xvi). Hence, he isn’t necessarily concerned with research, because he “[doesn’t] think accuracy matters all that much, per se. I think what matters is whether people perceive accuracy” (139). Having read the first two books, The Killing Floor (1997) and Die Trying (1998), Child does keep his stories simple yet interesting. Although he does stick with an underlining template, he utilizes a character type known as knight-errant (a mysterious stranger that roams the lands) that dovetails well with the thriller genre.
Beahm spends time discussing the various resources that Child’s draws from for his novels. Not surprising is his list of literary influences that include Alistair MacLean, Raymond Chandler, and, of course, John D. MacDonald. Readers will also learn how practicing law and then working at Granada Television for 18 years, honed his interdisciplinary approach and keen ability to focus on a story aimed directly to entertain the customer, or in this case, the reader. Beahm finishes off the first part by discussing the controversy: casting Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher.
In part two, the man – Jack Reacher – is presented in “snapshots” of information. This is the heart of the book, because audiences are looking to understand just what makes this knight-errant tick. Child reveals tidbits of information about Reacher in each novel, just enough to keep the reader intrigued, and in this section, Beahm collects and organizes into several chapters, the facts gleaned from the twenty novels already out. Given Reacher is ex-military while Child is not, Beahm, a former army major, draws on real-life experiences to explain potentially difficult military concepts and processes to the civilian readers of Reacher stories. There is even a chapter on military terms so readers can learn what “CGUSAHRC” stand for and what “Alice” means. In this section of the book, Beahm includes several photo references of military vehicles as well as insignia and medal cheatsheets. The focus on military does get a little heavy handed, but one has to remember, Reacher is a product of his military experience. Hence, insight to the character has to be drawn from established (Read: published.) processes and procedures, for example West Point cadet schedules. (Reacher graduated from this military institution.)
The women in Reacher’s life are discussed as well as the places that Reacher visits in each novel. In both of these chapters, there are spoilers, so caution or complete avoidance is recommended until all the novels have been read.
The last section of the book is titled the “Back File” and includes information on where to find Child’s official website and Facebook page, as well as a list of online booksellers that carry his novels. There’s also a list of novels in publication order; however, the more interesting list recaps the books in chronological order of Reacher’s life. Approaching the novels in this order, one would need to start with The Enemy (book #8) and finish with the most recent book, Make Me. I mistakenly believed that the Junior Officers’ reading list includes recommendations for young adult books, but in actuality, Beahm is referring to books for military personnel! Most of the information can be found online with a little research, but since this is a field guide, it is appropriate to include this information; however, the most glaring omission, one that I always look for, is an index. This book could have used one given all of the terms, but mostly because of the several references to facets of the various novels. Perhaps an index, for all of us academics out there, will be added in the updated version down the road.
This field guide is a good entry point for readers interested in gaining insight into the author and the character. What adds selling points to this book are the quotes that Beahm sprinkles throughout the book which give readers a flavor for the writer’s approach to Reacher. Additionally, I think Beahm’s experiences flesh out the military section and provide the human interest to the military facts presented. And, as a writer, reading about Child’s approach to writing is helpful. Established writers advise to write what you know, so I leave you with one of Child’s quotes: “All of us write wish fulfillment. It’s all some kind of idealized autobiography. The answer is that I would be [Reacher] if I could get away with it.”
The Jack Reacher Field Guide Giveaway
For those individuals in geekdom who are unfamiliar with Smart Pop Books, please allow your friends at Fanboy Comics to provide a formal introduction! Smart Pop Books is the pop culture imprint of independent publisher BenBella Books and offers a variety of engaging and thought-provoking non-fiction titles focused on the discussion and exploration of the best of pop culture TV, books, and film. They have tackled Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Ender’s Game, The Hunger Games, Dexter, Divergent, Veronica Mars, and many, many more. We highly recommend stopping by their website (link provided above) and checking out some of the amazing products and free essays that Smart Pop has to offer.
The awesome people at Smart Pop Books and BenBella Books have generously provided us with a copy of The Jack Reacher Field Guide to give away to our readers!
What can you do to claim this awesome prize? All interested fans should enter by retweeting the following when you see it posted on the Fanboy Comics (@FanboyComix) Twitter account:
Win a copy of #TheJackReacherFieldGuide from @SmartPopBooks #FBCjrGiveaway – RT to enter!
We will be tweeting this message all week, so keep your eyes peeled! Multiple entries are permitted, so retweet away! The contest will officially close on Monday, May 2, 2016, at 5:00 p.m./PST.
At the end of the giveaway, the FBC staff will choose one lucky winner. The winner will be announced on the Fanboy Comics website on Tuesday, May 3, 2016, along with being notified through Twitter. (Entries will be accepted from the U.S. and Canada only for this contest.)