As slow and painful as it was getting through this book, I managed to finish it just so that I could enter into discussions and debates with an understanding about what this was all about. By the end of it, I wanted to be on the killing floor to be put out of my misery, horrible.
I have to also admit a certain level of embarrassment according to my gender while I was reading this book. Ultimately, Child presents a testosterone driven, Call of Duty obsessed, teenage male fantasy. The main character, Jack Reacher, fires off a dozen different weapons, all of which he has an encyclopedic knowledge of, kills many, many people in near every which way imaginable, survives a prison scene that steps of the pages of some sort of script of stereotypes, and sleeps with the “hot female” cop after simply smiling at her.
Reacher is trapped in a 6′ 5″ well toned body with a 50″ chest, has a mind that has only had to think and deal with violence, has no familial ties and his psychology is such that he always knows what he is doing is right, suffering no remorse or conflict about the numerous lives he has ended. If anyone thought Bond or Bourne were too much, Reacher would drive them over the edge.
Killing Floor will be my last foray into the Jack Reacher series, full stop. What I’m struggling with, really, is explaining the appeal of this book from any sort of critical position. I realize that there are certain bits and pieces of mass marketed literature out there that are not looking for praise or whose sales will not be based on their critical merits, but there is that part of me that is disappointed with the regression of an audience that is willing to accept such mindless, violent tripe.
There is no character depth, so I guess that some readers may find solace in knowing that Reacher is always right and will win, due to his superhuman qualities, like a proportionally life-sized G.I. Joe doll. Even Marlowe was scared at points. How Child can stretch him out to a series, I don’t know. It is written if first person point of view, so there was always the “reliable narrator” argument in the back of my mind, figuring that if Reacher needed any more justification for his actions, he could simply write it in. My question of his reliability really lay in his treatment of other people and reaction to killing, screaming that the narrator of the story was really psychologically unstable and did nothing to earn my trust.
The plot had some points that might have been interesting, but nothing was really explored or drawn out the way one would hope or expect in a decent detective novel. By the time I finished the book, I had no motivation to check some of these ideas out, mainly because the plot seemed more convenient as a connecting point between episodes of violence. Whenever the plot or Reacher’s investigative work was stuck, the threat of violence usually brought whomever may have been holding a key piece of information around to cough it up and allow Reacher to move on to the next step.
Well, there was the one time that Reacher deduced from a suspect’s record collection that he would book himself into hotels under the names of the Beatles, in different combinations, in a rotating manner. So, after a few phone calls to the local hotels, he found his man. Ridiculously thin, terrible, nobody could do detective work like that, at least believably.
Killing Floor put me in mind of a series that I fell into called The Black Berets, a team of mercenaries that were hired for the toughest jobs, living on the thrill of a thinly masked death pursuit complexes. This series was full of graphic violence and sex, where every bad guy died horribly and in vivid detail and every woman was scantily clad, beautiful and performed wild sex acts nearly immediately after encountering a member of the team.
I mention this now, feeling my face flush a bit, but understanding the interest I had in the Black Berets wasn’t coming from that of a mature reader. This is because I read this series as a 12 year old boy, who read it out of curiosity of the topics that I listed above. I read it for the same reasons that 12 year old boys can be found sneaking peeks at the top row of magazines. I wasn’t interested if the plots were ludicrous, the characters were sadistic and the perspective of the writing was chauvinistic and degrading to women in every way possible way. I was interested in the elements of life and being male that I didn’t understand yet, still experimenting and learning how to behave and act. Fortunately, it was not the Black Berets that provided me with the bulk of my understanding of my gender, I had other role-models that were healthier and provided a more respectful view of those around me.
It is the recognition of these issues that I rail against the writings of authors like Lee Child, they cater to the mindset of curious 12 year old boys, or males that wish to regress to that state of 12 year old boys. Authors like Child perpetuate the chauvinism that is so tough for males to seem to grow out of by providing a fantasy character that shows not human qualities, mainly frailties. There is no regret, reflection or remorse on the part of Reacher and, most insulting to me, drops the woman that he spent most of the novel’s romantic scenes screwing because it was her fault she was messed up in the head by the events that transpired in the book. The only time he needs help is when he cannot be physically in two places at once. Completely inhuman.
There is a difference between authors like Child and the likes of Chuck Palahniuk, Raymond Chandler or Ian Fleming, is that their characters show human qualities, if not in action, in thought. A complexity is put forward to the reader to make a decision as to what qualities are desirable and which are not. This complexity can challenge the reader and encourage them to form critical thought, not simply and mindlessly be swept along on a testosterone driven ride that reinforces a series of male fantasies that I was hoping that we were outgrowing, not celebrating.
I hope that Lee Child’s invention of Jack Reacher is the one step back before our two steps forward.