Progress report: Reacher, still trying to hitchhike to Virginia to meet a girl, gets picked up by a strange trio of travellers.
If this were anyone but Reacher, he would just take a nap in the car until they dropped him off. Instead, he has to figure out who’s an undercover FBI agent and who’s just a terrorist.
So is A Wanted Man about a car hijacking? Kidnapping? Or something much more convoluted? Read on to find out!
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 A Wanted Man, see if you can identify the key elements of a Western/Knight Errant/Wuxia story.
Reacher is hitchhiking eastward when he’s picked up by two men and a woman.
He quickly discerns that the woman in the car is a hostage of the other two men.
The two men try to kill Reacher and the woman, so Reacher hunts them down with the help of a female FBI agent.
Along the way, they discover that one of the men is an undercover FBI agent, and the woman in the car was an FBI informant in witness protection. Maybe the kid working at McDonalds was in the FBI also, I wouldn’t be surprised.
When they track the bad guys to a terrorist base, the female agent gets killed, and Reacher storms the base to avenge her and rescue other FBI personnel.
Then Reacher gets back on the highway, continuing his trek eastward.
The Good: The Action At The End
If you’ve ever wondered how a single man would assault a fortified missile silo and kill two dozen terrorists inside, I’m sure you could watch Jack Bauer accomplish this in the series 24.
Alternatively, you could read about Jack Reacher doing this in A Wanted Man. Either way, it’s pretty exciting.
The Bad: All Of The Action Is At The End
I’m not going to say that this book is boring, necessarily. But there sure is a lot of driving around on the highways from point-to-point, and not a lot of the typical Jack Reacher-style combat encounters.
I would be lying if I said that the pointless driving and slow-paced investigation didn’t make me yawn a few times.
The Recommendation: Worth It, If You Get To The End
A Wanted Man isn’t a great example of the western/wuxia genre. And this book is definitely one of the worst-paced books in the Reacher series.
But the one-man assault on the terrorist compound at the end goes a long way toward making up for the slow build-up.
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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