Earlier this year, Random House held a Jack Reacher look-alike contest. The winner, a beefy Australian named Duncan Munro, got a character named after him in the latest Reacher thriller, The Affair. This week, Munro will act as Reacher creator Lee Child's surrogate, appearing at Australian book events as Reacher to read from and sign copies of the new book.
In the 14 years since The Killing Floor, Lee Child's first thriller, Jack Reacher — rugged drifter, ex-military cop, star of 16 novels — has joined an elite pantheon of the world's most recognizable fictional protagonists. His appearance helps: he's a 6-foot-5-inch 250-pound übermensch with a 50-inch chest. Perhaps more helpful still is the sheer volume of those who've read about him — Child, according to his publisher, has 50 million books in print worldwide. That number is about to get even bigger — in July, Paramount Pictures announced that diminutive A-lister Tom Cruise will play Reacher in One Shot, the first of Child's novels to make it to the screen.
Reacher Creatures, as Child's devotees are known, answered the announcement with a plangent howl. Internet commenters have called Cruise everything from a pretty boy to a twerp. Subscribers to the Jack Reacher Official Facebook page meet every wall post with anti-Cruise invective and have suggested alternatives of everyone from Daniel Craig to Nicolas Cage as potential replacements.
For as many beefcakes or weirdoes as they propose, it's doubtful that the Creatures would be happy with anyone in that role. The object of their worship is sui generis, one of the most likeable characters in the history of the genre — but for reasons that aren't always intuitive.
Reacher's heroic qualities are many. He's as talented at forensics as any Law and Order detective. He's a ballistics freak and can wax poetic about the relative merits of the Beretta and the Glock. He's incredibly strong and just and takes care not to hurt innocent bystanders.
You'll never catch Reacher with a book or killing an afternoon at the movies; he'd rather walk around and wait for trouble to find him. And as soon as it does, Reacher aligns himself with the nearest uniformed official who, sooner or later, respects his authority. In spite of his drifter credentials, Reacher's more rebel CEO than rogue iconoclast, outsmarting and earning the deference of those in power.
But for all his expertise, Jack Reacher is a singularly boring man, as mannered and as habit-driven as any IT systems engineer. For fun, he does difficult math in his head and goes to diners. Like a menacing, more useful Cliff Clavin, his store of arcane knowledge is vast and impressive. In addition to physics lessons and guns tutorials, Reacher provides a helpful gloss on everything from military uniforms to the inception of the US interstate. His favorite drink is coffee, and he thinks about it a great deal. Not in the same way as a churl who enumerates the differences between Starbucks and Stumptown — no, Reacher's fixation is almost worse. He thinks of it as fuel yet marks every cup (rarely great, always fine), sometimes explaining the physics of his coffee mug.