Personal: Lee Child

Posted: June 29, 2015 in Book Awards, England, France, spy story, USA

childsI read Personal by CWA Diamond Dagger winner Lee Child as a bit of light relief after the dark Nordic angst of The Silence of the Sea. It would perhaps be impertinent of me to review a book by the author of so many best sellers, and this is only the second Jack Reacher I have read.

But here are a few comments……….

That first Reacher I read was not particularly memorable, and this one after a great start faded away and the ending was rather weak. 

I also found it amusing that Personal seemed to be written for an American readership who know next nothing about England. 

‘Don’t you think? MI5 could trace it.’

‘To a cash payment in Boots the Chemist. Doesn’t help.

‘ ‘What’s Boots the Chemist?’

‘Their pharmacy chain. Like CVS. John Boot set it up in the middle of the nineteenth century. He probably looked just like the guy who built the wall around Wallace Court. It started out as a herbal medicine store, in a place called Nottingham, which is way north of here.’

Do American CIA/state department agents operating in England not know where Nottingham is, and do they need a geography and history lesson every few pages?

….then I saw the arch of a big soccer stadium, which meant we had made it to a place called Wembley.

Jack Reacher, an American, actually seems to me to be descended from a long line of British thriller heroes such as Richard Hannay, Bulldog Drummond and James Bond. The style of the narrative, action packed reminded me a lot of Sapper’s Bulldog Drummond books although obviously without the xenophobia, that distinguished those novels. For Sapper anywhere west of Godalming was bandit country.

In Personal Reacher sets out to save the ministers of the G8 from a sniper. There are only a few men in the world who could hit a target from 1,400 yards, and Reacher knows one of them personally. He sent him to prison years before. The reader is taken from Arkansas and Paris to exotic Romford, with Reacher leaving bodies in his wake, and we learn the unfortunate truth.

The problem with Personal is that any book that starts with the attempted assassination of a French President is going to be compared, by readers of my age, with The Day of The Jackal by Frederick Forsyth. Perhaps not a fair comparison one is a great crime fiction thriller, the other a pleasant read for a couple of sunny afternoons.

Lee Child is great fun to read if you treat the books as enjoyable beach novels that don’t strain the intellect too much. 


  1. Margot Kinberg says:

    Thanks, as ever, for your candor, Norman. I think you make a really well-taken point about the kind of comparisons people make. Sometimes those comparisons are quite apt; other times they are not, because the books are just different sorts of books. In a way, it reminds me a bit of comparing a novel to its filmed adaptation. Sometimes the adaptation has to be seen as a different sort of story.

  2. Norman Price says:

    Margot, I must have watched the filmed adaptation of The Day of the Jackal on 4 or 5 occasions and enjoyed it every time. But I watched Jack Reacher and can’t remember anything about it except Tom Cruise was cast as the 6’5″ Jack Reacher.
    Of course I have watched the wonderful Where Eagles Dare about 20 times so I don’t claim to be an intellectual, or much of a judge. 😉

  3. icewineanne says:

    Personally, these types of stories always have scenes where i just roll my eyes. So ludicrous, that i tend to give them a pass.

  4. Funnily enough I was just comparing a book to Day of the Jackal (Deon Meyer’s Cobra) but more favourably 🙂 – I did love that book – haven’t seen the film for year but loved that too

    As for Jack Reacher…I tried once and even as light entertainment it left me cold – but Lee Child must be doing something right as that book is everywhere in bookshops and newsagents here

    • Norman Price says:

      Bernadette, I would really like to see Deon Meyer’s Cobra win the International Dagger tonight, because it had a lot of the features I like in a thriller. But I have only read three out of the six shortlisted books so I can only wait and see.

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