Born October 29, 1954, in Coventry, England; married Jane (an environmentalist), 1975; children: Ruth. Education: University of Sheffield, LL.B. (with honors; law), 1977.
Addresses: Agent—Darley Anderson Agency, 11 Eustace Rd., London SW6 1JB, England. Home—Westchester County, NY.
Ice cream salesperson and demolition worker in Birmingham, England; Granada Television, Manchester, England, 1977–95, began as technical assistant, became television director; debut novel, Killing Floor, published by Putnam, 1997.
Awards: Anthony Award for best first novel, Anthony Boucher Memorial World Mystery Convention, for Killing Floor, 1997.
British novelist Lee Child created a memorable hero in action-thriller fiction with his tough-as-nails series star, Jack Reacher. Child's protagonist is a taciturn, physically powerful former U.S. military officer who regularly finds himself in the most perilous of situations in the popular novels, which have earned the author a devoted readership. "With Zen professionalism and logical deductions, he outwits his opponents every time," wrote Gilbert Cruz of Reacher's charms in an Entertainment Weekly review. "Then he kills them." Child appreciated the widespread appeal of his hero to readers and film studio executives alike. "Reacher is exactly what I would be if I could get away with it," he asserted in a Publishers Weekly with interview with Dick Donahue.
Child was born in 1954 in Coventry, England, and moved with his family to Handsworth, a suburb of Birmingham in the West Midlands area of the country, at age four. He grew up with an older brother, Richard, and their relationship would serve as a template for the fictional one Child later created in his novels. Much like Jack Reacher and his brainy older brother, Joe, Child emerged as the defender of Richard, who grew up to become a nuclear scientist. "We have very much the same kind of relationship: He's smarter than me; I'm tougher than him," the writer told Donahue in the Publishers Weekly interview. "When I started elementary school, he had already been there a couple of years. Every recess my first duty was to go and drag the bullies off him before I could play with my other friends."
Child went on to King Edward's School in Edgbaston, a private academy whose graduates often go on to England's top universities of Oxford or Cambridge. He was active in the school's theater group, and also helped out backstage at the Bir-mingham Repertory Theatre for a number of years. At the University of Sheffield, however, Child chose to study law, not drama, and after graduating in 1977 answered a newspaper ad for a technical-assistant position with Granada Television, one of the country's broadcast networks. He was hired, and soon moved to Manchester, an industrial city in England's north, with his American-born wife, whom he had met in college. At Granada he eventually rose through the ranks to become a television presentation director. His resume included such acclaimed projects as the 1981 adaptation of the Evelyn Waugh novel Brideshead Revisited and the crime-detective series Prime Suspect and Cracker.
In the mid-1990s, Child lost his job at Granada when the company began downsizing to reduce costs; highly paid senior staffers like Child were among the first to be axed. He had long been a fan of "crime novels but had never been 100 percent happy with them," he told Birmingham Post journalist Phil Brown. "The hero would always make one plot-driven mistake, which was totally out of character, and it would spoil the book for me. I decided to write my own." Both his wife and teenage daughter took jobs to help contribute to the household in the meantime.
Child produced a draft of his first Jack Reacher novel in four months, and landed an agent. With his severance pay just weeks from running out—and with it, the possibility that he and his wife would have to sell their house—the call came through that Putnam, the U.S. publishing house, was ready to offer him a deal. Killing Floor appeared in March of 1997, introducing readers to Reacher, a former MP, or military police officer, with the U.S. military. The story centers around events in a Georgia town where Reacher is arrested not long after his arrival for the murder of his own brother. Joe Reacher was a U.S. Treasury Department investigator, and Reacher begins to suspect foul play in the seemingly picture-perfect town. With the help of a sympathetic law-enforcement official, he sets out to learn the truth and clear his name, uncovering a major counterfeiting ring in the process.
Killing Floor earned critical accolades for its gripping story and appealing hero. New York Times reviewer Deborah Stead praised its "great style and careful plotting," also noting that "the violence is brutal, even stomach-turning, but it is depicted with the kind of detail that builds dread and suspense." The debut also won an Anthony Award for best first novel at the Anthony Boucher Memorial World Mystery Convention, and the film rights were sold to Polygram. Some of the press Child received mentioned the relatively rare phenomenon of a British author writing a thoroughly American crime thriller, but as the author explained to Brown in the Birmingham Post, "it was easier to write about America than England. The plots can be more expansive. It's such a huge country … anything can happen."
In 1998, Child and his wife and daughter moved to the New York City area, which he asserted had been "a longstanding dream," he told Donahue in Publishers Weekly. "Ever since I was a little kid, I knew I was supposed to live in the States and was always kind of puzzled that I didn't." His second Jack Reacher novel, Die Trying, appeared that same year, this time with the hero battling right-wing extremists in Montana. Both a loner and a drifter, Reacher turned up next in the Florida Keys in 1999's Tripwire. Its plot involved the hunt for a serial killer named Hook Hobie, who lost a hand in the Vietnam War and uses the hook that replaced it to torture his victims. "A showdown between the two men is inevitable," noted a Publishers Weekly review," and when it happens, it's a beaut—almost as good as Child's skillfully laid surprise ending and the crisp and original dialogue throughout."
The gory ends that some of Reacher's enemies came to did not seem to detract from book sales, and Child gained additional devotees with each new novel. One segment of his fan base even began to call themselves "Reacher Creatures," and their hero seemed to charm both male and female readers alike. The latter group found Reacher's unimpeachable morals and transient character a plus, while male readers seemed captivated by his freedom. "He's literally unencumbered, which seems to be a fantasy that appeals to men especially," Child reflected in an interview with Benedicte Page for Bookseller. "[M]en who have mortgages, responsibilities … or whatever. The idea that you can just wander from place to place with nothing but the clothes on your back is very appealing."
Child kept to a consistent schedule and produced a new Jack Reacher novel almost yearly. In his fourth installment, Running Blind, Child once again makes Reacher a suspect, this time the target of Federal Bureau of Investigation profilers who tag him as a suspect in the slayings of several women, all of whom had served in the military and once filed sexual harassment complaints against their superiors. Echo Burning, which was published in 2001, finds Reacher in Texas. While hitchhiking, he accepts a ride from a woman, but declines her offer to murder her abusive husband. He takes a job at their ranch, however, and works to solve the slaying that does occur. Writing in the New York Times, the newspaper's crime-fiction reviewer Marilyn Stasio praised the latest chapter in the saga, asserting that "the action is violent, but well calculated; and the ingenuity of the plot is especially well suited to a cool character like Reacher."
A vice-presidential assassination plot served as the backbone for Without Fail, Child's last Jack Reacher story for Putnam. In 2002, he moved on to Delacorte, which had offered him a four-book deal along with a bold strategy for increased sales and possible screen adaptations. His first book for Delacorte was Persuader in 2003, which featured Child tailing kidnappers who have nabbed the daughter of a wealthy, unscrupulous mogul. In 2004's The Enemy, Child fleshes out some of Reacher's back story in flashback sequences. He took this approach to satisfy his legions of fans, who often wrote him inquiring about what happened in the hero's past that had made him such a formidable figure. The flashbacks are set at the tail end of the 1980s, when Reacher is still a military police officer but about to be cashiered out thanks to a major downsizing of the U.S. military that actually did happen at the end of the Cold War. The novel also featured storylines involving Reacher's ailing mother and the brother who died in Child's debut novel. Its main plot, however, centers around the slaying of an Army general and a gay special-forces commando, and once again Reacher must prove his own innocence before bringing the real killers to justice. "Textured, swift, and told in Reacher's inimitably tough voice, this title will hit lists and will convince those who still need convincing that Child has few peers in thrillerdom," a Publishers Weekly review declared.
Child often used real-life mysteries as a starting point for his plots. In the 2005 title One Shot, Reacher focuses on a deadly sniper in a story that had echoes of a Washington, D.C.-centered series of crimes a few years earlier. In other cases, the storylines were wholly invented, such as the mercenary-militia leader whose wife and daughter are kidnapped in The Hard Way. Published in 2006, this book was Child's first to send Reacher to England in his investigation—a nod to his legions of British fans. "Once again a book of Mr. Child's pivots on logistical details that amount to trigonometry," noted Janet Maslin in her New York Times review, "culminating in a prolonged siege enacted with stunning, compass-point precision." Cruz, writing for Entertainment Weekly, also gave the story high marks. "The great thing about the Reacher novels is that time and again they achieve an almost perfect balance between police procedural and tactical military thriller," Cruz asserted.
Book sales for Child's titles have regularly brought him to the attention of Hollywood studios, but the screen version of what some believed to be the next Dirty Harry-style crusader was still in the planning stages as of 2006. A year earlier, the sniper tale One Shot was optioned by Paramount Studios, and Tom Cruise's production company signed on to film it, possibly with Cruise in the lead. In mid-2006, however, the actor and his team severed ties with Paramount and took over the United Artists studio; a potential legal battle loomed over custody of several potential film projects between Cruise and his former studio bosses—including the Jack Reacher rights. But Child had never been in a hurry to see his hero on the big screen. "Film options are fantastic because it you basically get free money," he once explained to a writer for the London Sunday Times. "Producers pay you to give them a year to decide if they want to make the movie. For one book they typically pay $40,000. After that year, I can renew the option with the existing producer or sell it to another. Film options have put my daughter through an expensive private college in New York."
Killing Floor, Putnam (New York City), 1997.
Die Trying, Putnam, 1998.
Tripwire, Putnam, 1999.
Running Blind, Putnam, 2000.
Echo Burning, Putnam, 2001.
Without Fail, Putnam, 2002.
Persuader, Delacorte (New York City), 2003.
The Enemy, Delacorte, 2004.
One Shot, Delacorte, 2005.
The Hard Way, Delacorte, 2006.
Birmingham Post (Birmingham, England), May 22, 1999, p. 49.
Bookseller, March 24, 2006, p. 20.
Entertainment Weekly, May 19, 2006, p. 78.
New York Times, February 2, 1997; July 22, 2001; May 11, 2006.
Publishers Weekly, May 31, 1999, p. 63; March 22, 2004, p. 58; May 31, 2004, p. 44.
Sunday Times (London, England), May 26, 2002, p. 8.
Times (London, England), July 1, 2006, p. 8.