Friday, September 09, 2016

The Book You Have to Read:
“Persuader,” by Lee Child

(Editor’s note: This is the 141st installment in The Rap Sheet’s continuing series about great but forgotten books. Today’s contribution comes from Diane Capri, the author of several best-selling series, including the Jess Kimball, Heir Hunter, Hunt for Justice, and Hunt for Jack Reacher series. A former lawyer and past executive vice president of International Thriller Writers, she now divides her time between Florida and Michigan. Capri has been nominated for several prizes, including the International Thriller Award, and she won the silver award for Best Thriller e-Book from the Independent Publishers Association. Her latest novel, due out in October from Thomas & Mercer, is Blood Trails.)

Perhaps no book by Lee Child, undeniably one of today’s most successful thriller writers, can truly be called “forgotten,” but bear with me a minute.

Persuader, originally published in 2003, was Child’s seventh novel featuring his iconic vigilante with a heart, Jack Reacher. Persuader was the first of the Reacher books to hit the New York Times best-seller list in both hardcover (2003) and paperback (2004).

Persuader was a rebirth for the already successful series in many ways, because it was the first Reacher novel from Bantam after another publisher had released the initial six. The new publisher brought fresh momentum to the series.

Indeed, rebirth is a theme that runs throughout Child’s tale. The villain here was reborn 10 years after Reacher believed he’d killed the bastard. And Reacher himself rises from the sea in a feat of superhuman self-preservation at the end of the book.

Would we have 21 Reacher novels today if Persuader had failed to grab us by the throat and never let go? Fortunately, we don’t need to guess the answer, because Persuader’s success, and the increasing success of every Lee Child book thereafter, serves to keep Reacher top-of-mind.

But Persuader, as important as it was at the time, sits firmly in the middle of the Reacher oeuvre and might be overlooked in favor of the first books or the latest in the series.

Persuader is the only one of the Reacher yarns that begins with a trick, an elaborate ruse that leads us in the wrong direction, instead of Reacher’s characteristic straightforward start.

Persuader runs on three parallel timelines. The book opens 11 days after Reacher becomes involved. Chapter 2 takes us back to his enlistment in the action by the FBI. And throughout the story, we’re aware that Reacher has his own agenda this time. One that he doesn’t share.

Sure, he’ll help the FBI take down the drug dealer. Yes, he’ll rescue the kidnapped agent. Of course, he doesn’t worry about the rules. But that’s not why he’s here, in Abbot, Maine, risking his own life while handling the bad guys.

Reacher’s hidden agenda is revenge, pure and simple. Reacher proves, just in case anyone was not clear on this issue, that he’s a stone-cold killer. And, because we trust him, we cheer for the vigilante hero with heart. We know Reacher is on our side, and we feel like we need him there. We’re grateful.

We love these books because in addition to the iconic character, the relentless action, the excitement and reward of the story, we also get Lee Child’s unique style.

I have discussed this book with Lee at length and with others in an unusual way.

I write an authorized spin-off series from Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels. Two years ago, I began to write Deep Cover Jack (AugustBooks), entry No. 4 in that series. I usually begin with a source book in mind, and for Deep Cover Jack, I chose Persuader. I’d been excited to feature this one because, back in 2006, Lee and I used Persuader to create a mock trial at ThrillerFest in Phoenix. Were you there?

Reacher was charged with premeditated murder. Lee played the role of Reacher, of course. I was the judge. Thriller writers who are real-life lawyers and cops played the other roles. Paul Levine, for instance, was Reacher’s defense attorney. Our prosecutor was Michele Martinez and her star witness was James O. Born. Our bailiff was David Dun. We had two juries, including readers and reviewers such as the amazing Ali Karim and Carol Fitzgerald. An audience of more than 200 readers joined us, and the trial was great fun.

During trial preparation and the jury deliberations afterward, we had the opportunity to delve into Persuader in a deeper way than most readers would. We discussed Reacher’s motives and actions, and we heard his testimony from somebody as close as anyone will ever come to the man himself.

The evidence against Reacher was overwhelming. Yet both juries found Reacher not guilty. When we asked the jurors to explain their verdicts, they told us they were persuaded by two things.

First were Reacher’s motives. Reacher always does what he feels is the right thing in the face of overwhelming odds. Reacher’s desire to stand up for what he believes is right, regardless of the consequences, resonated powerfully with these readers.

(Left) Author Diane Capri

During the years I’ve been writing my Hunt for Jack Reacher series, I’ve heard these sentiments from readers over and over again. Readers appreciate what they view as Reacher’s fundamental decency and kindness to people who deserve it, while at the same time he deals fatal blows to those who deserve no clemency. It’s perfect cosmic justice.

The second persuasive thing to these jurors was even more telling. Simply put, they wanted more Reacher novels. They were worried that a guilty verdict would stop Lee Child from writing more books. No one was willing to risk that. Reacher had become too important to them.

Fine fiction, the kind that a writer like Lee Child has delivered in 21 Reacher novels (including this November’s new release, Night School, provides an entertaining catharsis of sorts to the reader. Research shows that when we immerse ourselves in a good story, our brains experience it virtually, as if we were engaged in the actual experience ourselves.

Reading Reacher gives us the emotional satisfaction of righting the wrongs that have been done to us or to our friends and families. Nowhere is that experience more satisfying than in Lee Child’s Persuader.

Or had you forgotten?


DKlein43 said...

Looking forward to Exile on Bridge Street. That one looks great!

Malcolm Connor said...

Very neat. Persuader was actually the book that introduced me to Lee Child and the Jack Reacher series, a recommendation from a friend after I mentioned my devotion to the Bourne trilogy (now the quarter, I guess).


Queen of Q said...

There's a reason Lee Child is an icon by now. Your article shows it perfectly.