Arts & Entertainment, Last Word

Jack Reacher’s Chaos Control

By Miriam R. Kramer

What do you read when a terrible war takes over television and social media, horrifying you and making you feel helpless to do anything to change the situation? As I sat down to write, I suddenly realized that my reading this past month has been pushed in a very unusual direction by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which started on February 24. Assuredly some mental relief has arrived in reading all the Jack Reacher books written by Lee Child. An action series like this is not my typical choice. Yet as a speed reader, I compulsively swept through Child’s many books because of the way their themes, tone, and structure come together in easily read works suitable for beach vacations or airplanes. Mostly aimed at men, these muscular books, and Jack Reacher the flawed hero, provide satisfying and instinctive solutions to difficult problems.

Jack Reacher is a loner, the star of this long-running show. As a military brat and a former member of the Army Military Police, he has had a peripatetic international upbringing, with a French mother, a brother, and a Marine father who moved multiple times to bases around the world. Mostly called Reacher, he has few close friends and no living relatives in most of the books and short stories. He is an army of one, with his own strongly instilled code of conduct and an unyielding, vigilante sense of justice.

In attending multiple schools growing up, along with training for the military, he learned to fight bullies hard and dirty to win at all costs. At 6’5” and 250 lbs., he can confront and dispatch predators with great ease. As the founder of the Army Military Police, 110th MP Special Investigations, he serves in a very unpopular part of the Army, but one that suits his intense powers of observation and tenacious desire for the truth.

The series starts with Jack Reacher leaving the service some years after the Cold War is over. He no longer feels useful as the military is pushing people towards retirement to reduce its forces. He has also angered one too many superiors with his independent attitude, so he takes an honorable discharge and decides to become a traveler, thumbing rides or taking buses from one city to another on a whim. In one city he takes a short-term job as a bouncer, in another he digs pools.

Having grown up with an itinerant life overseas, Reacher decides to crisscross the US in retirement. Along the way he finds trouble—in his mind, as Congressman John Lewis once said, “good trouble”—in which he solves mysteries, rights wrongs, and beats up criminals and bullies. He uses his sense of focus, strongly defined values, basic kindness, and implacable need to settle problems either peacefully or violently, depending on the situation. In the process, despite often looking like a vagrant, he charms women, often those in law enforcement. Author Lee Child describes violence viscerally as Reacher deals out unforgiving punishment to “the bad guys.”

I took the books for what they were. I also found them quite uneven, although I raced through all of them. There were several books or novellas out of chronological order, telling stories of cases Reacher solves before he retires from the service. As a military brat, I found these stories to be the most compelling. Giving him context and structure made his adventures more appealing. Occasionally Child also comes up with some ingenious premises that hook you from the very beginning, such as the book in which Reacher hitches a ride and realizes that one of his fellow passengers in the car is being kidnapped.

Sometimes Child’s pace is a steady, tedious tread with too much detail on dull, flat landscapes and unnecessary characters. He may do that purposefully to inhabit his hero’s mindset. Reacher takes a methodical approach towards solving mysteries and problems that requires him to sift through tedious minutiae patiently.

As a lone wolf free of everyday responsibilities, the character of Jack Reacher probably appeals to many stuck in jobs they dislike, wanting to travel wherever they want on a whim with no responsibilities. Since his sense of right and wrong is clearly defined, he rarely finds himself as indecisive as his readers might be. He does not care whether he is liked, and makes decisions that might satisfy only him, although he weighs others’ welfare in the balance.

Reacher’s power in fighting bullies is also very appealing, as is his ability to win fights and solve problems that he willingly takes on along the way. In short, he is a clear cut, albeit flawed hero, a purposeful hobo nick-named “Sherlock Homeless” by a previous co-worker. He regularly throws away his dirty clothes and buys clean ones to avoid carrying even something as small as a suitcase.  His lack of baggage, literal and figurative, makes him see the world more clearly, and his vigilante justice is swift and unmerciful.

Yet Child paints him as a fundamentally good man—one whose straightforward understanding of the world and how to solve its problems by the end of the book assuredly made him, for me, a respite. Right now, we see overwhelming, overlapping scenes of chaos as refugees stream out of bombed Ukrainian towns in scenes reminiscent of World War II. We do not know when and how this conflict will end. We want the ability to solve this terrible war as quickly and humanely as possible. We want certainty.

I recommend Season 1 of the series Reacher on Amazon Prime if you enjoy the books. The lead actor, Alan Ritchson, is very well cast, and the series is fairly faithful to the first book written about Reacher, Killing Floor, while keeping the action lively.

I am doing what I can to help solve this problem by ending my review with a list of some charities vetted through the Better Business Bureau’s Give.orgGuideStar, and Charity Navigator. They will help you to donate wisely to Ukrainian recipients instead of paying for an organization’s excessive overhead. The descriptions below originally come from

  • The American Red Crosshas had teams in Ukraine for eight years, and it is now providing food, hygiene products, blankets, medical supplies, trauma kits and household assistance, as well as first-aid training in bomb shelters and metro stations.
  • CARE USA, in partnership with People in Need, aims to reach 4 million people with emergency assistance — particularly families, women and girls, and the elderly who are likely to suffer the most from this crisis.
  • Direct Reliefworks directly with Ukraine’s Ministry of Health and other regional partners to provide medical aid from oxygen concentrators to critical-care medications, while at the same time preparing to offer longer-term medical assistance to people who are displaced or affected by the conflict.
  • GlobalGivingsays eight years of armed conflict in eastern Ukraine have already killed thousands and thrown millions into crisis, but full-scale war is having “catastrophic consequences,” made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic. The charity provides shelter, food, and clean water for refugees, along with health and psychological support and access to education and economic assistance.
  • The International Rescue Committeeis on the ground in Poland to support the approximately 1.06 million Ukrainians who fled there to escape the Russian invasion. Donations help the organization provide food, medical care, and other emergency support services.
  • The Kyiv Independent, an English-language publication launched three months ago on the principles of independent journalism, needs help to continue publishing as the crisis deepens.
  • Mennonite Central Committeehas worked in Ukraine since 1920, when its soup kitchens fed thousands of starving families. Since the beginning of the current conflict, the organization has focused on helping people displaced by the crisis.
  • Mercy Corpshas teams on the ground in Ukraine, Poland, and Romania, where funding is provided to local organizations based on humanitarian needs they’ve identified as most urgent. In 2014, Mercy Corps helped 200,000 Ukrainians with emergency cash, food, water, and sanitation supplies.
  • Save the Children, which has been providing humanitarian aid to children and their families in Ukraine since 2014, says 400,000 of the refugees are children who are at risk of hunger, illness, trafficking, and abuse. Donations provide immediate assistance, such as food, water, hygiene kits, psychological support, and cash.
  • UNICEFis on the ground in Ukraine to provide safe water, health care and other protections to children. Donations are 100 percent tax-deductible, and the organization retains less than 3 percent of funds for administrative costs.
  • The N. World Food Program USAsays a $75 donation provides a family with an emergency box containing enough food for an entire month.
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