Man vs Bookshelf: The Hard Way

This entry is part 23 of 45 in the series Man vs Bookshelf

As most of you will know, this is the first sentence of this particular blog.

What many of you will not know, is why I’m opening with it.

Well, allow me to let you in on a little secret.

I’m trying to buy time.

That’s right, you heard me. I’m sitting here, writing rubbish, putting off the moment I have to start writing about The Hard Way.

To someone with even casual intellect and little desire to put it to use, this may seem a ridiculous thing to do.

After all, this blog is not live. To you, the date is the 10th of February 2018, if you are reading it on the day of release, and even later if you are not.

The truth is, as I sit here on Jan 20, I know there will be at least three weeks before anyone reads this blog. As such, there is no reason to procrastinate. I could sit in my desk chair and spin around and around until the thoughts come.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that.

I come to each review with little or no idea what I’m going to write. I never used to like writing reviews and never felt I was any good at them. It’s for this reason my reviews are not your average reviews. They vary from book to book and often show no common attributes to reviews you may have read elsewhere on the web.

I tend not to delve deep. To analyse what a writer might have been thinking when he was writing. What it means when character X does Y. I don’t write about this because this sort of thing doesn’t interest me.

Okay, at times I’ve written about things like theme and meaning, but usually, they can go hang. I enjoy the book or I don’t, and I write about that.

But if there is one thing I can guarantee, it’s that sitting around and trying to plan what I’m going to write does not work. I’ll draw a blank and end up doing something else. The only way to kickstart the creative engine is to start writing and hope it all works out in the end.

Hence the above.

It’s frustrating.

The point of this series was to get every book on my bookshelf (all 210 of them) read. That matters more than anything else and it appears to be working.

But I also wanted to improve my blogging consistency. Something I often struggled with in the past.

Giving myself a regular topic seemed the best way to sort this.

This, also, has worked.

Finally, the idea that in writing many reviews they might become easier was a tantalising one.

Not so much.

At least, it doesn’t feel that way.

So far I have written 21 reviews, covering 25 books and you’d think by that point I’d feel more assured about it.

I don’t.

I still struggle every time. On some books more than others but there is always some degree of hardship.

This has led to botch job blogs. See my Entrepreneurs Book of Checklists or Ayoade on Ayoade blogs for prime examples.

I’m always frustrated when that happens. When I can’t find one interesting thing to say about a book. That’s annoying.

But this series is about the process as much as it is the reviews, and I hope I keep people well informed in that manner. Next blog out I’ll be reviewing two books, but also talking about some stats I’ve accumulated. I hope that will be interesting because I’ve not got much to say about the two books in question.

As for this book. It’s fiction, from one of the best selling series of all time, so it would be a crime if I couldn’t find something to say.

So, let’s try, I suppose.

Lee Child and Me

If we trust Wikipedia, Lee Child’s Jack Reacher is the 45th best selling book series of all time.

This ranking may well improve given it is ongoing where many above it are not. Discworld, Hunger Games, A series of Unfortunate Events, etc.

The series in total has sold between 50-100 million books but no one book has sold more than 10 million copies.

To put this into perspective, Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train have both sold between 20-30 million copies. Each.

In any case, this is impressive stuff.

Like it or lump it, Reacher is huge. Everybody knows his name, like he’s in Cheers, even if they’ve never read the books. Plus, there are now two (at the time of writing) Tom Cruise-fronted movies.

It doesn’t get much bigger than that.

Given this level of success, I had read a fair bit about Lee Child before I read a Reacher book.

Why? Because he’s a successful author with a pen name from England, and that’s exactly what I want to be.

Having already achieved points two and three, with ease, though I don’t like to brag, it was time for point one. So, I read about Child to learn about the genesis of Reacher and his writing process.

Child’s, not Reacher’s.

I discovered Reacher is so named because Child is tall, and his wife told him he could be a supermarket reacher.

(Side note. I used to work in a supermarket and we did not have ‘reachers’. We had stalls or ladders. I imagine Child enquired about empty reacher posts, found this wasn’t a thing, so turned to writing instead. A not uncommon set of events leading to the creation of best selling authors.)

This was interesting, but from his writing process, I was able to glean very little.

Legend has it, Child writes one draft of his book and then sends it off – done, aside from spellys, etc.

This is not true.

This cannot be true.

I won’t believe it. Ever ever. I’ll go into why in my review, and speaking of my review…

The Hard Way

The 10th Reacher novel, it was this one I read because it was this one my mum gave me some time ago.

It’s actually one of two Reacher books I have, the other being Killing Floor, the first Reacher novel.

Usually, I like to read series in order, however stand alone each book might be. If not for this challenge, I would have read Killing Floor first. Then, if I liked it, proceeded to buy the next eight books before touching The Hard Way.

Because of this challenge, that wasn’t going to be possible. I wasn’t going to be able to read the series in order and so it didn’t matter so much.

Thus, I choose The Hard Way because it was second hand and frayed and pretty offensive to the eye, to tell the truth. Whereas The Killing Floor is brand new.

So I plucked the frayed bastard off the shelves, and I began.

Preconceptions

I’ve never met Jack Reacher, because he isn’t real.

I’ve heard about him though, and his exploits. I’ve heard about the series and I’ve taken in what people say about him.

A guilty holiday read, they say. Something easy. Something quick. Something without much plot or substance.

Lee Child, they say, is the Michael Bay of fiction.

They said all these things and I did something I so rarely do when other people are talking.

I listened.

I don’t like books (or films) that are all action and lack story, and so was put off reading Reacher books.

Yes, they were popular, but so is Mrs Brown’s Boys.

Something changed that, within the last year.

I asked my mum for her Jack Reacher book and I went out and bought the first novel in the series. Two for £7 with Big Little Lies, one of the earliest books read for Man vs Bookshelf, and one of the best.

I can’t remember what made me want to pick up these books and give them a go, but the preconceptions didn’t go anywhere. I had formed an opinion of what Reacher books would be, and I stuck to it.

But was I right?

Easy read?

When you pick up a new book, it’s easy to judge what it might be like, right off the bat, by looking at font size.

Slow pace, ‘heavy’ novels, such as a Stephen King or the Lord of the Rings series, tend to have smaller font. Faster paced, easier reads such as the Discworld or Dexter series have larger fonts.

The Hard Way and The Killing Floor have big font.

For comparison, we’re talking the same size as a David William’s book.

That’s right, the children’s books.

Fewer pictures though.

The font size is an instant signifier. Nothing here is going to be mentally taxing. You’re going for a fast ride but with no trouble along the way.

In fact, you won’t even need a seatbelt.

Book read I can tell you, the font doesn’t lie.

It’s easy to see why peeps call these great holiday books. The chapters are short and there’s a lot of them (seventy-seven, I think, across 540 odd pages).

There’s also not a huge amount of sitting around and pontificating or, um, theming.

In The Hard Way, Reacher is immediately pulled into the centre of a kidnapping.

The victim is Kate, wife of Edward Lane, and her daughter. Lane is the head of a firm that hires out mercenaries to various governments around the world. He is, and this will come as little surprise, not happy at the turn of events.

The men surrounding Lane are loyal mercenaries able to start a war, but who don’t have the set of skills Reacher has. The kind of skills that might be able to track down Kate and save her before it is too late. So, with little preamble, Lane sends Reacher to find missing wifey, and get her back.

Set up complete, there is no pausing for breath. Reacher starts drags us from plot point to plot point without pausing for breath. The story rattles along at the same pace until the climax.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. What makes a bad novel is when it is fast-paced because nothing happens. There is no character development. There is no story.

I’ll talk about story in a moment, in the plotting section below, but I’ll say now there is a story.

The characters, too, are good. We don’t spend pages and pages dwelling on characterisation. But each character feels well formed and as though they deserve to be here, in the story.

So, it is an easy read, but it’s an easy read with substance, and an easy read with substance is my favourite kind of book.

Plotting

It’s easy to write a fast-paced book if you’re not going to do anything clever with it.

Aside from developing characters within a fast paced narrative. Hard Work. Child also gives us a strong plot.

It’s so well plotted, in fact, I can’t believe Child did it in one draft, as mentioned above.

This is a mystery, at its core, more than a thriller. It is Reacher trying to work out who has kidnapped Kate Lane and her daughter, Jade. Where they are, and whether he can save them.

The mystery is compelling, and well laid out. It’s the key to driving the plot forward and it makes for an exciting narrative.

Then, with a quarter of the book to go, Reacher unravels the mystery, and the climax is set up.

The conclusion to the mystery was more than satisfying, and I was excited about a big climax. Child had shown he was more than the Michael Bay of fiction, and an explosive ending would be the perfect finale.

Unfortunately, the climax, as it so often is, was a bit disappointing.

The back cover of the book describes Reacher as unstoppable, and this is part of the problem. He rushes around, dispatching baddies without ever facing real resistance. At the end of it he saves the day (spoiler alert) and he’s not broken a sweat.

James Bond may be invincible, but at least Fleming always made it seem he might be outdone by the baddie.

This is why the mystery part of the book is so much stronger than the action-packed finale. Reacher struggles to unravel what has happened. There is conflict as he makes decisions, gets things wrong.

If only there could have been little more conflict at the climax. The whole book would have been lifted another level as a result.

The Man Himself

Reacher is unstoppable, yes. It’s cool to see him dispatch baddies with ease, even if it is annoying they don’t put up a bit more of a fight.

But as a whole, Reacher is an interesting and well-rounded character. That’s what carries the book.

This is no plain brute. Reacher is a thinker. He’s intelligent with a good memory and a penchant for noticing things. Everything.

He’s deliberate but fearless, and the wanderer persona works a treat.

Hence, Jack Reacher becomes one of the most compelling leads I have yet come across in this challenge.

Sum Up

My preconceptions were wrong, and I believe Child is often undersold.

This novel was fast paced but it was clever, it was interesting, and it had great characters, led by a brilliant lead.

The climax could have been better, but it wasn’t dull. The mystery was well plotted and the resolution to that is more than satisfying.

I guessed certain elements of how it would go down, but there was plenty of mystery hidden.

Overall, this book has sold me on the Reacher series. I could happily pick up more and jump into them.

A four out of five on Goodreads.

Give it a go.

Next Time

Next time out we have the first of three double book blogs.

It’s Freakonomics and Super Freakonomics.

Series Navigation<< Man vs Bookshelf: Bobby MooreMan vs Bookshelf: 102 days down (+ Freakonomics) >>
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International worst selling author Mark Ayre has been writing since before he could pick up a pen (somehow). Recently he is taking the internet by storm with his Man vs Bookshelf Challenge where he aims to read the 210 books on his bookshelf in 210 weeks, reviewing them on his blog and Goodreads along the way. He is also publishing books on Amazon, his most recent being the family suspense novel, Poor Choices, which you can find here.

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