Thursday, August 12, 2010

Worth Dying For - In Praise of Lee Child

Today I received an ARC of Lee Child's latest Jack Reacher thriller, Worth Dying For. No, I won't be revealing anything about it. But I did want to talk a little about Lee as a writer.

Lee is the titanic shadow that falls across any British thriller writer bold enough to set their books Stateside. He is to borrow a phrase coined by Bono to describe Sir Paul McCartney,'the man who discovered the country we're all living in.'

There was an inevitability when I sold Lockdown to Lee's UK publisher that the writer I would be most compared to would be Lee. The parallels, from what I can gather, go beyond the books. We both wrote our first novels at the age of 40 after a career in television and when we felt ourselves at a crossroads. We both wrote them to get ourselves out of a financial hole. We're both married to Americans. Both of our central characters were military policemen. The list goes on.

Driven by the marketing, reviewers in the UK have picked up on the similarities. So have many readers. Sometimes the comparisons have been favorable, sometimes not so much. Those are the breaks.

Writing the second book in the Ryan Lock series, Dead Lock, it struck me in a way that it hadn't before just how good Lee Child really is. I had a good degree of respect for his work before but when you move from debut into series territory you really begin to appreciate just how difficult it is to achieve what Lee has achieved with Jack Reacher and how astute his choices have been.

The other thing that has struck about Lee's writing (and I admittedly came to him late) was the brilliance of that stripped down prose style. The only writer we've had that comes close in recent memory is Hemingway (Raymond Carver's complete lack of inflection renders any comparison moot). Like Hemingway, Lee Child stacks one simple declarative sentence on top of the other, building from paragraph to paragraph, chapter to chapter, and in the process creating in the reader a profound emotional shift.

Lee Child is our Hemingway. Not the thriller writer's Hemingway. Not the crime fiction community's Hemingway. He transcends genre. He is the most American writer, with perhaps the exception of Cormac McCarthy, working today. As such there will be no 'new' Lee Child because Lee Child stands alone.