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Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
Copyright © 1997 by Lee Child.
All rights reserved.
eBook ISBN: 978-1-101-14705-4
The Library of Congress has catalogued the G. P. Putnam’s Sons
Special excerpt from Die Trying
Jack Reacher made his first appearance in print on March 17, 1997—St. Patrick’s Day—when Putnam published Killing Floor in the United States, which was Reacher’s—and my—debut. But I can trace his, and the book’s, genesis backward at least to New Year’s Eve 1988. Back then I worked for a commercial television station in Manchester, England. I was eleven years into a career as a presentation director, which was a little like an air traffic controller for the network airwaves. In February 1988, the UK commercial network had started twenty-four-hour broadcasting. For a year before that, management had been talking about how to man the new expanded commitment. None of us really wanted to work nights. Management didn’t really want to hire extra people. End of story. Stalemate. Impasse. What broke it was the offer of a huge raise. We took it, and by New Year’s Eve we were ten fat and happy months into the new contract. I went to a party, but didn’t feel much like celebrating. Not that I wasn’t content in the short term—I sleep better by day than night, and I like being up and about when the world is quiet and lonely, and for sure I was having a ball with the new salary. But I knew in my bones that management resented the raise, and I knew that the new contract was in fact the beginning of the end. Sooner or later, we would all be fired in revenge. I felt it was only a matter of time. Nobody agreed with me, except one woman. At the party, in a quiet moment, she asked me, “What are you going to do when this is all over?”
I said, “I’m going to write books.”
Why that answer? And why then?
I had always been an insatiable reader. All genres, all the time, but very unstructured. I naturally gravitated toward crime, adventure, and thrillers, but for a long time in the UK we lacked genre stores and fan magazines, and of course the Internet hadn’t started yet, so there was no effective network capable of leading a reader from one thing to the next. As a result, I had come across some very obscure stuff, while being completely ignorant of many major figures. For instance, in February 1988—while the ink was still drying on our new TV contracts—I took a vacation in the Yucatán. I flew back via Miami, and picked up John D. MacDonald’s The Lonely Silver Rain at the bookstall in the airport. I had never heard of MacDonald or Travis McGee. I read the book on the plane back to London and loved it. I thought, “I wonder if it’s part of a series?” Hah! I was back in the States at Easter that year and bought every McGee title I could find, which added up to about a linear yard’s worth.
Nobody needs me to sing MacDonald’s praises, but that yard of books did more for me than provide excellent entertainment. For some reason the McGee books spoke to me like textbooks. I felt I could see what MacDonald was doing, and why, and how, as if I could see the skeleton beneath the skin. I read them all that summer, and by New Year’s Eve I was completely sure that when the ax fell, I wanted to do what MacDonald had done. I could stay in the entertainment business, but work for myself in the world of books.
It took six years for the ax to fall. But fall it did, and so it came time to make good on that earlier ambition. I went to WHSmith’s store in the Manchester Arndale mall—which the IRA destroyed a year later—and bought three legal pads, a pencil, a pencil sharpener, and an eraser. The bill was a penny under four pounds, which was about six bucks at the time. Then I sat down with my purchases and let years of half-formed thoughts take shape. But not just six years of thoughts—now I have to take the process back another thirty years or so, to the point when my reading habit first took hold.
I had found that I liked some things, and disliked other things. I had always been drawn to outlaws. I liked cleverness and ingenuity. I liked the promise of intriguing revelations. I disliked a hero who was generally smart but did something stupid three-quarters of the way through the book, merely to set up the last part of the action. Detectives on the trail who walked into rooms and got hit over the head from behind just didn’t do it for me. And I liked winners. I was vaguely uneasy with the normal story arc that has a guy lose, lose, lose before he wins in the end. I liked to see something done spectacularly well. In sports, I liked crushing victories rather than ninth-inning nail-biters.
Some of my reading was directed, of course, in school. I was part of probably the last generation ever to receive a classical English education. I read Latin and Greek and Old English, all the ancient myths and medieval sagas and poems. I met the “knight errant” at source.
Then I took a law degree at university. I never intended to be a lawyer, but the subject knit together all my nonfiction interests—history, politics, economics, sociology . . . and language. Legal language strives for concision and avoids ambiguity wherever possible. The result is inevitably dull, but all that striving and avoiding really teaches a person how to write.
Then I went to work in the theater, and developed a phobia. Back then there was plenty of experimental theater, some of it good, most of it awful. The worst of it was run by people who saw their minimal audiences as badges of honor. “The public is too stupid to understand us,” they would say. I hated that attitude. To me, entertainment was a transaction. You do it, they watch it, then it exists. Like a Zen question: If you put on a show, and nobody comes, have you in fact put on a show at all?
So for me, the audience mattered from the start. Which helped me thrive in television. And along the way I discovered I was the audience. We were generally doing quality mass-market entertainment, but even so, some guys were conscious of slumming. Not me. G. K. Chesterton once said of Charles Dickens, “Dickens didn’t write what people wanted. Dickens wanted what people wanted.” I would never compare myself to Charles Dickens, but I know exactly what Chesterton meant.
So, at thirty-nine years of age, after maybe thirty-five years of conscious experience, I sat down and opened the first of my three legal pads on my dining room table and lined up my pencil and sharpener and eraser and . . . thought some more, and came up with three specific conclusions.
First: Character is king. There are probably fewer than six books every century remembered specifically for their plots. People remember characters. Same with television. Who remembers the Lone Ranger? Everybody. Who remembers any actual Lone Ranger story lines? Nobody.
So, my lead character had to carry the whole weight . . . and there was a lot of weight to carry. Remember, I was broke and out of work.
Second conclusion: If you can see a bandwagon, it’s too late to get on. I think the person who said that to me was talking about investment issues—as if I had anything to invest—but it seemed an excellent motto for entertainment, as well. It’s a crowded field. Why do what everyone else is doing?
So, I was going to have to do something a little different. The series that were then well under way—and most that were just starting out—were, it seemed to me, when carefully analyzed, soap operas. (Which, to me, is not a derogatory term. . . . Soap opera is an incredibly powerful narrative engine, and soap operas had put food on my table for eighteen years. Lots of it, and high quality.) Lead characters were primus inter pares in a repertory cast, locations were fixed and significant, employment was fixed and significant. In other words, series heroes had partners, friends, jobs, apartments, favorite bars, favorite restaurants, neighbors, family, even dogs and cats. They jogged, worked out, had pastimes. They had bills to pay and issues to resolve.
If you can see a bandwagon, it’s too late to get on. I was going to have to avoid all that stuff.
But, the third conclusion, and the most confounding conclusion: You can’t design a character too specifically. I knew in my bones that to think too carefully would produce a laundry list of imagined qualities and virtues and would result in a flat, boring, cardboard character. I would be consulting a mental checklist—“I need to satisfy this demographic . . . check . . . and please these people . . . check . . .”—until I had a guy with all the spark and life beaten out of him. So I quite self-consciously pushed that thirty-five-year soup of ideas and influences into the distant background and decided to relax and see what would come along.
Jack Reacher came along.
I was interested in dislocation and alienation, and I had noticed that people who have spent their lives in the military have trouble adjusting to civilian life afterward. It’s like moving to a different planet. So I wrote a character who had been first a military brat, then a military officer, and was now plunged unwillingly into the civilian world. And because the books would be broadly crime novels, I made him an ex–military cop in order to give him plausible familiarity with investigative procedures and forensics and so on. Those twin decisions gave him a double layer of alienation. First, his transition from the rough, tough world of the army made him a fish out of water in civilian life, which situation was then further reinforced by any law enforcement officer’s separation from the rest of the population.
And he was American. I’m British. But by that point I had been a regular visitor to the United States for twenty years—my wife is from New York—and I felt I knew the country pretty well, at least as well as I could expect an alienated ex-military drifter to know it. And it’s easier to be rootless and alienated in a giant country like America. Alienation in a tiny, crowded island like Britain is of a different order, almost wholly psychological rather than physical or literal. I like reading the internal, claustrophobic British books, but I didn’t want to write them. I wanted big, rangy plots; big landscapes; big skies.
Jack Reacher’s status as a former officer happened instinctively. Looking back, I clearly wanted to tap into the medieval knight-errant paradigm, and a knight-errant has to have been a knight in the first place. I thought a West Point history and a rank of major would be suitable. In literary terms it was an important choice, but later I realized it has plausibility issues. His whole personality, approach, and implied past experiences make it much more likely that in the real world he would have been a warrant officer, not a commissioned officer. But to me it was crucial that he should have a certain nobility—which is a strange thing to say about a guy who goes around busting heads as frequently and thoroughly as Jack Reacher does—but it is clear from subsequent reaction that his “white hat” status depends heavily on our images of and assumptions about rank. (And his “white hat” status has tempted readers to classify the series as a set of modern-day Westerns, which is convincing in terms of feel and structure. Some of the novels are just like Shane or a Zane Grey story or a Lone Ranger episode—lonely, embattled community has a problem; mysterious stranger rides in off the range, solves the problem, rides off into the sunset—but I have never been a fan or even a reader of Westerns. What is happening there is that Westerns too have strong roots in the medieval knight-errant sagas. As in much of evolution, if B isn’t descended directly from A, then they both shared a common ancestor much farther back.)
At first he wasn’t called Jack Reacher. In fact, he wasn’t called anything at all. The part of writing that I find most difficult is coming up with character names. My books are heavily populated with stationery brands and other authors, because when I need to name someone I tend to look around my office helplessly until my eye alights on the front of a notebook or the spine of a book on my shelves. Once or twice I stared out my window until a neighbor walked past, or thought back to the name badge of the last clerk I saw in a store . . . all kinds of people get their names in my books, most of them unwittingly. But obviously the main character’s name is very important to get right. With luck it will appear in many books, and even be talked about in other contexts. I started writing with no clear idea of the name. The first book was written in the first person, which meant he didn’t need a name until someone else asked what it was, which didn’t happen for thirty or so manuscript pages. Then a police detective asked, “Name?” I put my pencil down and thought. The best I could come up with was Franklin, as I recall. But I wasn’t happy with it.
Then I went shopping. Part of the problem with not currently having a day job was, well, I didn’t have a day job, and my wife therefore assumed that after many years of solo struggle she now had help with chores. So she asked me to go to the supermarket with her, to carry stuff home. I’m a big guy; she’s a small woman. She was also a worried woman, although she was hiding it well. Our life savings were disappearing, and regular paychecks were mer...Revue de presse :
Praise for Killing Floor
A People Magazine “Page-Turner”
A Barry Award winner
An Anthony Award winner
“All [Jack Reacher novels] are ripping yarns, but.... Killing Floor wins awards for Best Corrupt Southern Town in a Summer Novel and Best Exploding Warehouse.”—Stephen King, Entertainment Weekly
“Combines high suspense with almost nonstop action. Reacher is a wonderfully epic hero: tough, taciturn, yet vulnerable.”—People
“Great style and careful plotting. The violence is brutal... depicted with the kind of detail that builds dread and suspense.”—The New York Times
“A complex thriller with layer upon layer of mystery and violence and intrigue...A long unsettling trip that leaves your brain buzzing and your stomach knotted. The author pens nightmarish images as casually as an ordinary writer would dot an ‘i’ or cross a ‘t’.” —The Philadelphia Inquirer
“A tough, compelling thriller with characters who jump off the page.”—Houston Chronicle
“Violent and visceral...A cut above...Reacher is as tough as he is resourceful. An exciting, edge-of-the-chair account. Compelling and relentlessly suspenseful.”—The Denver Post
“Some novelists can write top-notch action and some can create compelling mysteries, yet it’s rare to find both of those skills displayed in a single book. Lee Child’s Killing Floor is one of them. But not content with writing a rip-roaring thriller, Child also gives us one of the truly memorable tough-guy heroes in recent fiction: Jack Reacher.”—Jeffery Deaver
“A big, rangy plot, menace as palpable as a ticking bomb, and enough battered corpses to make an undertaker grin.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Beautifully detailed action scenes and fascinating arcana about currency and counterfeiting...[A] taut and tough-minded first novel.”—Publishers Weekly
“I love the larger-than-life hero, Jack Reacher. I grew up a fan of John Wayne’s and Clint Eastwood’s movies, and it’s great to see a man of their stature back in business. Lee Child grabs you with the first line and never loosens his grip. Killing Floor is a terrific ride.”—Nevada Barr
“This is a kick-ass first novel by the very talented Lee Child. Hero Jack Reacher has presence and dimension—a man you definitely want on your side. Child has a sure touch and a strong voice. Definitely a talent to watch.”—Lynn S. Hightower
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