The In­ter­ro­ga­tion LEE CHILD

He’s the Coven­try-born au­thor who cre­ated the world’s big­gest thriller hero in JACK REACHER. A for­mer Granada TV ex­ec­u­tive, he be­came a writer af­ter be­ing made re­dun­dant, aged 40. Some 20 years later, TOM CRUISE is star­ring in a sec­ond Reacher movie and C

Crime Scene - - FEATURE - BY AN­DRE PAINE

“You could say one of the big mod­els for Reacher would be Sherlock Holmes,” he tells Crime Scene. “He’s very thought­ful, he’s very ev­i­dence-based, he is log­i­cal in that same way that Sherlock Holmes is log­i­cal.”

As well as be­ing by far the most suc­cess­ful au­thor in the room, with book sales top­ping 100 mil­lion, Lee Child also tends to be the tallest. At 6ft 4in, he’s just a shade shorter than his lit­er­ary hero, for­mer US mil­i­tary po­lice­man Jack Reacher, which makes him easy for fans to spot. So when Child am­bles into a book launch just off London’s Le­ices­ter Square, Crime Scene seizes the mo­ment. This leather jack­et­clad, su­per­star thriller writer is supremely laid­back – sur­pris­ingly so for an au­thor who’s ex­pected to de­liver an­other best­seller every year – and he read­ily agrees to an in­ter­view upon pub­li­ca­tion of Night School, his 21st Reacher novel, which also co­in­cides with the sec­ond movie out­ing, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back.

Child’s as good as his word and the in­ter­view’s set up when he’s next back in the coun­try. Child’s lived in New York for years, has a farm­house in Sussex and also a place in France – a coun­try oddly im­mune to Jack Reacher. Forbes mag­a­zine de­scribes him as a bil­lion-dol­lar brand, though Child is a re­laxed in­ter­vie­wee: he never gives a diplo­matic answer and ca­su­ally lets slip a pos­si­ble ti­tle for his next book (“The Mid­night Line… I don’t know what it means, but it sounds good”). His dead­pan de­liv­ery means you some­times miss his jokes, such as the answer to Crime Scene’s ques­tion about how much of Reacher is in Child.

“Well, what I nor­mally say is that all the in­ter­nal stuff is me, and the vi­o­lence is toned down be­cause it’s got to be plau­si­ble,” is his straight-faced re­sponse. Of course, there’s plenty of ac­tion in his nov­els – which have all been op­tioned as films – but they’re also smart and stylish, in the hard­boiled tra­di­tion of Ray­mond Chan­dler. And there’s a sense of his­tory in Night School, the third pre­quel novel (fol­low­ing The En­emy and The Af­fair) to fea­ture the mys­te­ri­ous and inim­itable Reacher.

Why did you take Reacher back two decades for Night School?

Partly be­cause it was an in­ter­est­ing an­niver­sary: 20 years af­ter 1996, which was around the time that we started to re­alise we had a prob­lem that we now [ know] as cur­rent-day ter­ror­ist threats. I felt that pub­lic pol­icy at the time was quite hon­est, they ba­si­cally said ‘we’ve no idea what this is, so we’re just go­ing to have to run around like crazy and try and fig­ure it out.’ Yeah, I mean the open­ing propo­si­tion is that it’s dis­guised as a school as­sign­ment, in or­der to keep them un­der­cover. And I thought ‘night’ sounded kind of shad­owy and threat­en­ing. It gets harder and harder to do ti­tles when you’ve got 21 books – you’re sort of lucky if you can come up with a good one.

There’s also a movie tie-in edi­tion of

Never Go Back. How was your ex­pe­ri­ence of the film se­quel?

It was great, yeah. From a writer’s point of view, it’s quite as­ton­ish­ing that you get a per­son like [ di­rec­tor] Ed Zwick, who was at the head of a crew and cast num­ber­ing over 100 peo­ple, and they were deal­ing with it so se­ri­ously and so in­tently. It’s in­cred­i­bly flat­ter­ing that they take it that se­ri­ously, and I thought it was beau­ti­fully writ­ten.

What did you think of Tom Cruise along­side a new and quite young cast?

Well, Cruise, I thought he was ter­rific first time. You know, they only made the se­quel be­cause he re­ally wanted to. So he was to­tally into it the sec­ond time around. But it’s re­ally a three-han­der – Reacher, Su­san Turner and the kid, Sa­man­tha Day­ton. And in terms of act­ing, of course, it was Co­bie Smul­ders, who’s done many things – but how was she go­ing to stand up to Tom Cruise? She had to look him in the eye and boss him around. And the kid, Danika Yarosh, she had to look both of them in the eye and be their boss, at times.

Ed Zwick’s been talk­ing about an an­thol­ogy of films rather than di­rect se­quels. Does that work for you?

Yeah, to­tally, be­cause that’s how I write them. It’s a se­ries, ob­vi­ously, but it’s not a se­ries that is in con­tin­u­ous ac­tion. Each one of them ex­ists on its own and it’s a to­tal stand­alone. You can read a few, you can read one, noth­ing de­pends on any other story, so Ed was smart to iden­tify that as a kind of an­thol­ogy. Hav­ing said that, I did think that it was quite fly in the way that the first se­quence – the sher­iff in the diner – is a very neat, stylis­tic bridge, tak­ing you from the old movie into the new movie.

Are you still get­ting emails about the cast­ing of Tom Cruise?

We still get them, but what’s re­ally in­ter­est­ing is there’s a sort of mid­dle sec­tion of emails now, which say, “I hated the idea but then I caught the movie on tele­vi­sion and, you know what, he was ac­tu­ally pretty good.” We’re get­ting a lot of that now, which is to be ex­pected, I think, be­cause he was pretty good.

And have you had any more act­ing resid­u­als from the first film?

Yeah, I still get 20 bucks now and then, and I’ve got a cameo in the new one, so I’ll be get­ting all that all over again, I guess. I’m a TSA officer at airport se­cu­rity, where Cruise is get­ting through with a phony ID. I’m the guy that looks at it and kind of says ‘what­ever’ and lets him through.

At the Har­ro­gate Crime Writ­ing Fes­ti­val, Jeffery Deaver de­scribed his re­lent­less ap­proach to planning nov­els. Does that hold any temp­ta­tion?

Not re­ally. I like Jeff a lot and we get on well, and we’ve known each other for years, but he and I are the ab­so­lute po­lar op­po­sites. Jeff likes a solid plan, a long out­line and a lot of de­tail. I couldn’t do that, be­cause if I had it all worked out in my head, then that story is done – I’ve told my­self that story, it would hold no more in­ter­est for me. To sit there and just type it out, the bore­dom would shine through. I don’t want to know what hap­pens, I don’t want to know what the is­sue is, I don’t want to know who­dunit, un­til the story has worked it­self out on the page.

You’ve signed a deal for three more Reacher nov­els and a col­lec­tion. Are any short sto­ries key to his back­ground?

I look at them more as tiny lit­tle nov­els, you know, ex­tremely ab­bre­vi­ated nov­els. There are three of them, ac­tu­ally, that I was re­ally happy with. “Sec­ond Son” was about Reacher as a young teenager, “High Heat” was about Reacher as a 16-year-old, and “Small Wars” was an­other sort of pre­quel, where Reacher was al­ready in the mil­i­tary po­lice. They came out pretty well.

There was talk that you might call time on Reacher – why did you con­tinue?

It’s com­pletely about the read­ers. They would have been very un­happy if I’d stopped, that was the mes­sage I was hear­ing. And I think a writer has a real

A writer has a re­spon­si­bil­ity to their read­ers. They’ve cre­ated this whole thing

So this new ter­ror­ist threat was like go­ing back to school? Child with­cruise and Rosamund Pike in the firstreacher movie.

Child con­sid­ers the film treat­ments of his work “in­cred­i­bly flat­ter­ing”.

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