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
“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”.