Nothing To Lose, by Lee Child—Where’s The Belief?
My book club is planning to discuss the Jack Reacher books next month. This is great news for me, since I’ve been a Reacher reader for several years now.
I still remember the title that got me hooked on Reacher: Nothing To Lose. I thought I would go back to this first book and see if it still had the compelling excitement that I remembered.
Bottom Line: it still does.
But Bottomer Line: this story is really unbelievable.
Read on to find out what I’m talking about.
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.)
As I describe the plot summary of Nothing To Lose, see if you can identify the key elements of a Western/Knight Errant/Wuxia story.
Reacher is wandering westward across America when he stumbles into a company town.
Without any explanation, the residents/employees gang up on Reacher to run him out of town.
Even the corrupt law enforcement is against him.
Reacher meets the ‘damsel-in-distress’ looking for her missing husband.
He teams up with a local ‘sheriff’ to take down the evil company boss.
Finally, he hitchhikes out of town, heading westward toward his next adventure.
The Good: Interwoven Sub-Plots
What I really enjoyed about this book was how Lee Child uses subplots for misdirection.
About halfway through the book, Reacher explains that there are three different things going on, but he doesn’t know exactly what any of them are. This leaves the reader wondering whether each conflict is part of the main plot, or just a minor side plot.
The Bad: Poor Representation Of Religion, Government, And Military
I’ve noticed before that Lee Child doesn’t have a high opinion of religion; nor does he really have a good working knowledge of how the U.S. Army works. Both of those deficiencies were very apparent in Nothing To Lose.
Reacher finds an Army outpost in Colorado and calls it a ‘Forward Operating Base’ (those are for deployed locations). He refers to the Officer-In-Charge as a ‘single striper’ (lieutenants have bars, not stripes).
The main antagonist is religious; there is another religious character who mostly just discusses weak theology.
The final suspension of disbelief is that the bad guys purchase twenty tons of TNT without the FBI locking them down. Does the author actually live in the same universe we do?
The Recommendation: It Got Me Hooked. It Can Get You Hooked.
As I mentioned earlier, this was my first exposure to Jack Reacher, and I soon read the rest of the series. It’s a good starting point, especially if you aren’t particular about military details and accuracy in these finer points
The ending is somewhat unbelievable. I guess I had forgotten about it, because reading it a second time, I felt that it should have had more impact on the series.
But if you are looking for a strong introduction to a series of mystery/thrillers with a traditional western protagonist, I recommend Nothing To Lose.
If you are another dedicated Reacher Reader, comment below and tell us your favorite books! What do you think will happen to Jack Reacher under a new author? Did you like the movie adaptations?
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