A little lower down on Reacher's hierarchy of needs: bacon and eggs, cheeseburgers and french fries. One gets the feeling that Child, born an Englishman named Jim Grant, was awed by American diner food when he moved here 20 years ago. The American countryside, too — in addition to rare visits to major cities, Reacher most enjoys traveling through the less-populous corners of our great nation, waiting for trouble to find him.

He's an ascetic, carrying only a toothbrush and one set of clothes — accordingly, there's a delightful makeover scene in every book, in which Reacher buys an entirely new set of clothes, takes a lovely shower, and goes from looking scruffy to louche.

Once he cleans up, it's time for romance. Unlike coffee, Reacher's appreciation of women can get a little more detailed than "good" or "great," though "she looked great" and "she smelled great" aren't uncommon appraisals in Reacherland. He can get a little leery at times — it seems like he spends fully half of Die Trying noticing the fact that a comely FBI agent isn't wearing a bra.

Accordingly, most Reacher novels have at least one sex scene. These are almost uniformly embarrassing. In The Affair, the sex scenes are nearly twice as long as those in previous books, incorporating Reacher's usual blandishments ("her breasts were fantastic") with real-time blow-by-blows of all the action. A pronounced lack of genital nomenclature saves The Affair from HBO territory, but it doesn't save the reader from wincing at the following narration:

Long and slow, long and slow.

Breathing hard.

Panting.

Long and slow.

"OK," she said. "OK. Now. Now. Now!"

Faster and harder.

Faster, harder, faster, harder.

Eek! Child has said that Reacher is "the perfect affair," since incessant drifting dictates a built-in expiration date. Perhaps he or some editor noticed the substantial number of women turning out for his events and pandered under the misguided assumption that all of them would surely enjoy longer, slower sex scenes. In any case, Lee Child, nobody reads your books for sexy time; do take care to write fewer of them.

What Reacher Creatures crave — in addition to his world renown white-knuckle plotting — is ultraviolence. Lee Child books have a long and staggering history of ridiculously great fight scenes. The very best Reacher fights feature inordinately painful, seemingly insurmountable struggles with dizzying stakes like justice and survival.

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 Take the climactic fight in Persuader, one of the standouts in Child's oeuvre. An evil gun runner has imprisoned his wife and college-age son in a scary castle on a cliff along Route 1 in Maine. In addition to the turgid sea, mother and son are hemmed in by a gigantic bodyguard who has put a beeper inside the mother's underpants to sexually humiliate her. Reacher must defeat the bodyguard in order to free the innocent victims — and wow, what a fight!

His head snapped forward and I hit him with the cigarette punch again, right-handed. His head snapped back and I put my left elbow in his throat. Stamped on his instep, once, twice, and then stabbed my thumbs in his eyes. He wheeled away and I kicked his right knee from behind and his leg folded up and he went down again.

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