61 Hours, by Lee Child—The Start Of Something Beautiful
How far would you travel to meet a stranger? In the middle of the highly successful Jack Reacher series, Lee Child writes four books about Reacher’s phone introduction, journey east, and eventual rendezvous with his successor, Major Susan Turner.
My book club that was planning to discuss the Jack Reacher books was postponed, so I had the chance to read some extra novels. I decided to pick a reading target—I wanted to read the Susan Turner books. The first one is called 61 Hours. The last one, called Never Go Back, was made into a Tom Cruise movie.
Although all of the Jack Reacher books are very readable, I seem to remember that these four books, loosely connected by this female Army officer character, were particularly well-written.
Did I remember correctly? Read the review below!
Background On The Genre
Not many people know this, but our favorite Short Story Teller was inspired (both in comparison and in contrast) by Lee Child’s famous wandering protagonist, his Jack Reacher character.
There is a genre of fiction that is often (misleadingly) referred to as the American Western. Traditionally, this genre involved cowboys and gunfights, but historically, the Western hero archetype evolved from the medieval knight errant, or the Chinese Wuxia. These heroes are not defined by their period, but by their restless travels, or wanderlust.
This type of hero is effectively homeless, and travels from place to place in search of adventure. Each story begins when he arrives in a new town and becomes aware of the local conflict. Each story ends when he rides off into the sunset (or departs in some other dramatic fashion).
The Jack Reacher character is perhaps the best modern example of the wandering hero. Each novel begins in a new place. Reacher sees injustice, and fights the villains to restore justice. He inevitably leaves this place (and all of his new friends) behind at the end of each novel.
Jack Reacher Books in Reading Order
For the most part, the best Jack Reacher books can be read in any order. They were not written in chronological order. Only a few books have some minor continuity (mostly about Major Susan Turner, Reacher’s successor in the Army Special Investigators). Even these books can easily be understood and enjoyed in any order, though.
If you want to read the books in chronological order (instead of order of publication), however, here is the list of all of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher books in order (both novels and short stories).
Lee Child has written some of these books in first person narration, but most of them in third person. The books written in first person are mentioned in the list below:
The Enemy (Published in 2004, this book was set eight years before the series officially starts. This book is written in first person.)
Night School (Published in 2016, this book includes more of Reacher’s Army career.)
The Affair (Published in 2011, this prequel explains the details of Reacher’s final Army assignment before quitting the service. First person.)
Killing Floor (This was the first published Jack Reacher novel in 1997, written in first person narration.)
Persuader (First person narration)
One Shot (One of the best Jack Reacher books, and the first to be made into a movie.)
Gone Tomorrow (First person narration)
61 Hours (This is the first book to mention the new commander of the 110th Special Investigators, Major Susan Turner. The next three books describe Reacher’s personal mission to meet her.)
Never Go Back (Another one of the best Jack Reacher books. Reacher finally meets his successor from the 110th Special Investigation Unit. Also, does Reacher have a daughter?)
Personal (First person narration.)
No Middle Name (Short story collection.)
The Sentinel (The first Jack Reacher novel co-authored by Andrew Grant.)
Book Summary (Spoilers Hidden)
As I describe the plot summary of 61 Hours, see if you can identify the key elements of a Western/Knight Errant/Wuxia story.
Reacher is hitchhiking aboard a tour bus when it breaks down in a small prison town.
This small town is in the middle of a drug enforcement crisis and trying to prosecute a case against an international drug smuggler.
The key witness in this case is a ‘damsel-in-distress,’ albeit an older woman.
The local police force has some suspected corrupt cops that are trying to eliminate the witness.
The clock ticks down, and eventually Reacher kills the corrupt cop and has his final showdown with the drug kingpin.
This particular western ends with a cliffhanger—is Reacher still alive, or did he burn to death in a jet fuel explosion?
The Good: Significant Setbacks (No Spoilers)
Usually, Reacher is an unstoppable force, rolling forward like some kind of human avalanche.
What I enjoyed most about 61 Hours is that Reacher experiences some significant defeats. These defeats impact not only the plot, but also deeply affect Reacher, psychologically and inter-relationally.
In one critical scene, Major Turner is even trying to counsel Reacher against self-harm, because she is worried about his mental state. Reacher has to decide between pursuing this woman of interest, or exacting revenge on the criminals who put him in this situation.
More Good: Environmental Tactical Awareness (No Spoilers)
One of the best ways that 61 Hours sets itself apart from every other Reacher novel is by effectively disabling the towering titular character in a fight against a drug-dealing midget.
I don’t want to spoil any part of this encounter. But it plays out differently than every other cliche, cloned Reacher fight, in which he wins by launching his giant elbows at his enemies’ faces from great distances.
The weather in this book is also intense. Even though I read this in the middle of summer, I felt the bone-chilling coldness described in the book.
The Recommendation: A Perfect Place To Start Reading Jack Reacher
This book begins a 4-novel series with just enough continuity to keep you moving from one novel to the next. It’s a great way to get introduced to Jack Reacher.
It’s also a great way to learn more about the traditional western/wuxia literary genre.
If you are another dedicated Reacher Reader, comment below and tell us your favorite books! Are you excited to read the next Jack Reacher book, Better Off Dead? (Coming to print on October 26th, 2021!)
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