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Literary Glance: The Midnight Line by Lee Child

November 27, 2017

The Midnight Line by Lee Child starts off with a breakup.  I hope that’s not a spoiler.  I try to avoid spoilers, but the relationship(?) breakup is on the first page.  I don’t think something on the first page of a book is a spoiler.  Maybe page 50 is a spoiler.  But page 1?

After reading further, I can see why the breakup happened.  The protagonist Jack Reacher is kind of a jerk.  He’s a jerk with a sense of honor, but he’s still a jerk.  He probably has a reason to be.  I’m not sure because I haven’t read many of his books.

Jack Reacher is also a bad ass.  I don’t mean that sarcastically.  He talks like a bad ass and gets himself into bad ass situations.  So far, The Midnight Line is one of those books where all the characters talk tough.  Every character is a bad ass or thinks he/she is a bad ass.

To be fair, it’s tough for me to relate with Jack Reacher.

I’m not 6’5, I don’t have Special Forces training, and I can’t beat up 99% of the population without breaking a sweat, so I can’t relate to Jack Reacher’s thought processes.  As a reader, I try to sympathize with protagonists, but it’s hard when they intentionally put themselves into unnecessarily bad situations.  In the following scene, Jack Reacher walks into a bar to interrogate a biker named Jimmy Rat who’s hanging out with seven of his biker buddies.

If I had to interrogate a biker, especially one with a tough name like Jimmy Rat, I probably wouldn’t do it by myself, and I definitely wouldn’t walk into a bar full of bikers either.  I’d get to the biker when he was by himself or at least with fewer of his buddies.  But I’m not a bad ass, not like Jack Reacher.  Here’s an excerpt of Reacher’s bad ass behavior in a bar filled with bikers.  The parenthesis are my opposite of bad ass comments:

Reacher waited.  One of the bikers drained his glass and stood up and headed for the restroom corridor.  Reacher crossed the room and sat down in his vacant chair (I wouldn’t do that, but I’m not a bad ass).  The wood felt hot (I wouldn’t worry about that right now).  The eighth guy made the connection.  He stared at Reacher, and then he glanced at Jimmy Rat.

Who said, “This is a private party, bud. (Uh oh.  When a biker calls you “bud,” you know the biker means business).  You ain’t invited.”

Reacher said, “I need some information.” (I probably would have introduced myself first.  Or I would have left after I’d been called “bud.”)

“About what?”

“Charitable donations.”

Jimmy Rat looked blank.  Then he remembered.  He glanced at the door, somewhere beyond which lay the pawn shop (and everything else in the world), where he had made assurances.  He said, “Get lost, bud.” (“bud”? plus “Get lost”?  I don’t know why any sane person would still be there).

Reacher put his left fist on the table.  The size of a supermarket chicken.  (It’s important to show the bikers, and remind the readers, that Reacher has big hands)  Long thick fingers with knuckles like walnuts.  Old nicks and scars healed white against his summer tan.  He said, “I don’t care what scam you’re running. (I wouldn’t imply to Jimmy Rat that he was running scams)  Or who you’re stealing from.  Or who you’re fencing for.  I got no interest in any of that.  All I want to know is where you got this ring.”

(Maybe Reacher should have implied that Jimmy Rat was running a legitimate business instead of calling him a scammer and a fencer.  Maybe Jack Reacher is a bad ass, but he could work on his negotiation skills.  Dale Carnegie could give him a suggestion or two.)

*****

When you read a book in a series like Jack Reacher, it’s tough to decide which one to read.  Do you read the early books, which were probably better written but feel dated because they happened 20 years ago?  Or do you read the current bestseller that was probably churned out to meet a deadline?  I’m not sure.  But when you’re not sure, just take a glance, a literary glance.

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