Lee Child discusses his latest Jack Reacher novel in an exclusive interview

In an exclusive interview, Lee Child says he wants to see the world through the eyes of his creation, Jack Reacher

10 February 2019 - 00:00 By Jennifer Platt

Past Tense ****
Lee Child, Bantam Press, R290

Lee Child mirrors his creation Jack Reacher, or is it the other way around? Besides being charmingly droll, he is also charmingly laconic - he likes to politely get to the point of the matter, evident in our phone interview.

And like Reacher, he is peripatetic. He doesn't stay long in the towns that he writes about.

"A lot of them I just pass through. In the same way that Reacher is going to. I think it would ring false if Reacher had a super detailed knowledge of a particular place because how would he? He only ever passes by. I rely on an awful lot of first impressions and a feel of the place because I want to see it through Reacher's transitory eyes."

Like Reacher, Child doesn't like having much with him while wandering around and people watching, not even a notebook. "I don't like carrying anything. I have a sort of mental system where I say if I don't remember it, it's not worth remembering."

Part of the charm of the Reacher series is that every book is set in a new town or city in America and the latest book Past Tense is in Laconia, New Hampshire. Here, there are two storylines. Reacher is in Maine and wants to head to the West Coast for the winter but he doesn't get far. He thumbs a ride with a trucker and is dropped near a fork in the road. Instead of heading to Portsmouth where he will likely catch a lift to take him south, he decides to take the road to the small town of Laconia as this is where his father was born. It seems that Reacher has a flickering need to find out more about him and his family. But of course, along the way he pisses off a few of the not-so-nice townsfolk and some clownish mafiosi. There are plenty of fisticuffs.

The other storyline is about Canadian couple Patty and Shorty, who are trying to get to New York to sell their mystery treasure in a heavy suitcase and make a new life for themselves. Their old beaten-up Honda Civic breaks down along the way and they are stranded in the middle of the woods near Laconia. Close by they find a remodelled motel where the owners are incongruous - slick city men pretending to be down-to-earth, woodsy types, including a disingenuous desk clerk named Mark Reacher (dun dun dun). Their evil agendas simply leap off the page.

In the last chapters, the storylines eventually converge in the woods. Reacher doles out his sense of justice with more fisticuffs and deaths.

There's a deep menace to these motel owners. A smug Trumpian attitude that their privilege, money, skin colour and gender will let them get away with murder.

"All my books try to reflect what's happening in the world. [In this book] it's an attitude that money buys you anything, including horrific things. There's an arrogance that some people are worth less than others. With Mark Reacher I wanted to provide a bit of moral colour for Jack. That this is his relative, albeit a distant relative. If you start looking into your family you might not like what you find."

You might find out your family supports Trump. "That happens in reality. I know someone whose sister is a Trump voter and they can't believe it, but it's true."

Like Reacher, Child doesn't have a master plan or outline when he starts out. He just begins writing a new book. Past Tense could or could not be the beginning of a series where readers learn more about Reacher's past and family.

"It's always an option," says Child when asked if his next Reacher would reveal more about the army major. "It's also a choice you've got to make because Reacher is interested in what is happening now, and he is not particularly interested in the past. But of course everyone is sort of interested in their family. Maybe he will find out more. Maybe he won't. Like I said I don't make a plan, so I don't know."

We know Tom Cruise will no longer play Jack Reacher in the films. "We are going to ... do a streaming TV series with a new actor, I think that will be better." Child says he doesn't have anyone in mind as the star but he pictures Reacher as "a second-row forward rugby player - a big ugly guy". So for all those who said Cruise was not a good fit to play the man with dinner-plate hands and fists as large as turkeys, they have got their wish. @Jenniferdplatt