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You cannot be a Jack Reacher — a superbly fit, world-weary, immensely attractive, chivalrous, extremely observant six-foot five former military policeman in his forties, with an arsenal of abilities that make you the bane of all bullies and wrongdoers — because he is a fictional creation. However, you can spend time in his company — one of the great pleasures of contemporary thriller and mystery fiction since the 1995 publication of Killing Floor, the first of 13 books by Lee Child.

If you are one of his millions of fans, you probably know that Lee Child is actually the pseudonym of a Briton, a former Granada TV executive, who has, along with other talents, an astonishing command of American settings, language and culture. (This is a rare gift, given that some of Britain's best literary novelists are notorious for getting the details or the big picture wrong when setting books in the US.) You no doubt appreciate Child's mastery of the thriller-writer's craft, so that his books insist on being devoured in a handful of sittings. You are likely to admire his apparent capacity for research into the arcana of kidnappings, assassination, sniping, surveillance, first aid, etc. Most of all, you find yourself seduced by Child's great creation, Jack Reacher. 

Reacher is the literary descendant of John D. McDonald's Travis McGee, also a tall, thoughtful, formidable, altruistic loner and former military officer, with various practical skills underestimated by both enemies and allies. He is the big brother or partner any one would wish for: unflappable, invincible, loyal, able to read people like books. At once implausible and deeply satisfying, Reacher lives like a vagrant or an American knight errant, drifting from one small town or big city to another, like an updated version of the nameless protagonist of Clint Eastwood's early Westerns. Something of a Luddite and one of nature's libertarians, Reacher is unconnected from the grid: he has no mobile phone, no driving licence, no possessions, no family, merely an ATM card and an impressive military record. Like a wandering demigod, he rights wrongs that are brought to his attention or which just happen to take place in his presence. 

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