Rated | Alphabetical
The Cowboy Way
The Hard Way
Kevin Forest Moreau
What makes a hero, well, a hero? Is it selfless dedication to others
-- that idealized view we have of police officers, firefighters and
soldiers? Is it the decision to employ one's special talents and
abilities in the service of a greater good -- Stan Lee's whole "With
great power comes great responsibility" dictum? Or, as in Arnold
Schwarzenegger movies, is it simply being big, strong, good with a gun
and possessed of a disposition suitable to blowing away bad
guys without a second thought?
Jack Reacher, the hero ("protagonist" just doesn't seem to cut it) of
ten novels by British- born author Lee Child, falls more into the latter
camp than the previous two. He's not as one-dimensional as a gun-toting
Schwarzenegger action figure, but Child's compulsively readable
adventures revel in Reacher's overall manliness, sometimes to the point
of devolving into a pulp novel:
"He was calm. Just another night of
business as usual in his long and spectacularly violent life. He was
used to it, literally. And the remorse gene was missing from his DNA.
Entirely. It just wasn't there. Where some men might have
retrospectively agonized over justification, he spent his energy
figuring out where best to hide the bodies."
And why shouldn't Reacher be the object of such breathless adoration?
He's every man's inner fantasy realized. He lives a nomadic existence,
meandering from one locale to the other as the mood strikes him,
unencumbered by debts, obligations, commitments or relationships. He
doesn't pay taxes, doesn't have a fixed address or even a permanent
wardrobe. He's blissfully unaware of such modern conveniences as
text-messaging. He's an ex-Army military policeman, so he's got the
requisite ass-kicking skills. And he often enjoys healthy bouts of
no-strings-attached sex with beautiful women. He even has the useful
ability to accurately keep track of time in his head without wearing a
In short, he's a maverick, a 21st-century cowboy, a noncommittal yet
good-hearted wanderer who travels the globe having adventures. All of
which can make relating to Reacher a bit problematic -- few of us, after
all, have lived a similar carefree life. More to the point, he doesn't
grow. It's hard to trace a character arc (as aspiring
screenwriters like to call it) for a character who never changes and
forms no permanent attachments.
Good thing, then, that Child crafts such absorbing adventures (and that
he slowly unspools bits of Reacher's backstory as he goes along, in the
hopes that they'll help the reader understand him and thus make up for
that aforementioned lack of "arc"). The wandering-cowboy bit can lend a
whiff of formula to the proceedings -- Reacher may act reluctant to get
involved as often as not, when you know that if he didn't, there'd be no
story -- but once he commits, it's a pleasure to accompany him as he
follows false leads, applies his military skill set (tracking,
surveillance, interrogation, hand-to-hand combat, problem-solving) and
generally dispatches bad guys to gory, well-deserved ends -- with time
out for a little nookie.
He does all of the above in The Hard Way, in which he ends up
helping Edward Lane, a well-paid mercenary (who lives at the Dakota in
New York, no less) whose wife and stepdaughter have been kidnapped.
Reacher at first volunteers to help, although his motives become more
mercenary (and at the same time more altruistic) as clues and twists pile up
and things, naturally, prove not to be what they seem. What to make of
the fact that Lane lost a previous wife to an identical kidnapping plot?
Or that he left two members of his crew behind in a foreign country --
one of whom might be the kidnapper back for revenge? And who's the woman
obsessively observing the comings and goings of Lane and his men, and
dutifully reporting them to a local cop?
The Hard Way is as captivating a read as any entry in this
sturdy, dependable escapist series, and as good a starting point as any
for novices. It's well-paced and easy to follow, if a bit grisly for
those with a low tolerance for descriptive violence. The story and its
hero may not stick around for long after you've finished -- but then,
that's a cowboy for you.
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