Saturday, 18 June 2016

Killing Floor by Lee Child, 1997

Opening line: I was arrested in Eno's diner. At twelve o'clock, I was eating eggs and drinking from the highway to the edge of town.

The first thing I noticed the moment I read the opening lines was Lee Child’s writing style—refreshing and freewheeling without losing the intensity of the plot. The first-person narrative is matter of fact and almost conversational. It seemed as if the English novelist, who was born Jim Grant, was sitting across from me in a roadside diner and narrating his first story about Jack Reacher, his tall and hardy protagonist.

Jack Reacher is as appealing as Lee Child’s writing, as compelling as Robert Ludlum’s Jason Bourne. Neither knows fear. Both operate with grim determination and cold efficiency, and get to the root of things no matter what. Essentially, Reacher and Bourne are survivors. But the comparison between the two clever heroes ends there, for the stories and the worlds they inhabit are very different.


In Killing Floor, the drifter and former military cop is arrested for murder shortly after he arrives in Margrave, a murky town in Georgia. A case of being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Reacher and a timid guy named Hubble, who "confesses" to the murders, are interned in a state prison where our man becomes the unintended victim of a murderous attack meant for the other.

Convinced of his innocence, the police let off Reacher, who then discovers that one of the dead men who he was accused of killing was his older brother, Joe. Reacher stays back to avenge the death of a brother he was fond of as a kid and had almost forgotten when he grew up. He and detective Finlay and police officer Roscoe, to whom he is attracted, begin a secret investigation. The case takes them through a bloody trail lined with more bodies, including that of police chief Morrison and his wife, Hubble’s disappearance, and eventually to a brilliant counterfeit operation whose billion-dollar tentacles stretch into the mayor’s office and Margrave police.

Killing Floor has received mixed reviews, some good, some bad, and some average. I thought it was a realistic and hard-hitting debut by Lee Child who plates up a decent mixture of action, including some guerrilla-style killing by the fearless Reacher, and conventional detective work. The narrative is laced with some good lines, like the one I have reproduced below. Reacher is constantly on the move and so is the narrative pace. 


“You can’t find him, can you?” I said. “You’re useless, Kliner. You’re a useless piece of shit. You think you’re some kind of a smart guy, but you can’t find Hubble. You couldn’t find your asshole if I gave you a mirror on a stick.”

Elsewhere, the book is a fascinating study in counterfeiting which, we are told, is well-nigh impossible to accomplish in America. But as Joe, a government official who was hot on the trail of the crime syndicate, and Reacher find out, it can be done—and how.

Now that I have had a glimpse into the not unpleasant world of Jack Reacher, I’m eager to see how his no-nonsense character develops. The series has attracted a lot of attention, not least because of the 2013 namesake film where Tom Cruise plays the eponymous hero. Although, frankly, it’s a role that would have suited a younger Liam Neeson better.

Recommended.

24 comments:

  1. A terrific debut novel, Prashant. I've read all the Reacher books (they don't really have to be read in any order) and recommend them to anyone who likes a really good, tautly written, crime thriller. I hate the idea of Tom Cruise playing Reacher since he is way too short. I mean, who would be afraid of him? Part of Reacher's shtick is his 6'5" height which he uses a lot of the time just to intimidate. A young Liam Neesom would have been GREAT! That's who I saw in the role from the beginning.

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    1. I agree, Yvette. I intend to read at least a couple more in the series though not in order of publication. As noted above, I really liked Lee Child's writing which appealed to my reading senses. Reacher is unafraid and intimidating even in dangerous situations.

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  2. I'm very glad you enjoyed this, Prashant. Child can certainly write a solid thriller, I think. And the early Jack Reacher novels are, as you say, tightly-plottend stories. I'll be interested in what you think if you read other Reacher novels.

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    1. Thank you, Margot. At first I thought KILLING FLOOR was moving along at a steady pace when, in fact, it was unfolding at a brisk pace. It was a very engaging story.

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  3. Great review Prashant - I read one late book in the series (61 HOURS) and though it was OK but have not read any further. Quite enjoyed the Cruise movie - did you see it?

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    1. Thanks, Sergio. I watched only a few scenes from the movie and now that I have read my first Jack Reacher novel, I'm going to see it again if only to see how the character compares in book and film.

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  4. Fine Review, Prashant. I haven't rad any Reacher stories or Jason Bourne. Maye I should.

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    1. Thank you, Oscar. I read Robert Ludlum mostly in my youth, a period when I read a lot of popular bestselling fiction from the likes of Jack Higgins, Frederick Forsyth, Len Deighton and, of course, Ludlum, among many others.

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  5. Great review, Prashant. I read this book many years ago and liked it, but haven't continued the series. I do have the 2nd book to read sometime. I did appreciate Yvette's comment that there is no reason to read in order, because that often stops me when there are so many in a series. I am planning on watching the 1st Cruise movie even though I agree he does not fit my image of Reacher. But I have enjoyed so many of Tom Cruise's recent movies, I want to see what I think of this one.

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    1. Thank you, Tracy. I picked up a couple more books from a book sale and I hope to read either of them in coming weeks. I like Reacher's character — he is not just tough and fearless but also a very clever protagonist. He uses his head to get out of hopeless situations. I think I'm in for a treat.

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  6. I thought I had read this one, but it doesn't come back to me after reading your post. I actually liked the film with Tom Cruise.

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    1. Col, I'm planning to watch the film the next time it is shown on cable television. But Tom Cruise is not my mental image of Jack Reacher.

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  7. Well, you've persuaded me! I've not read anything by Lee Child, but your review is sending me to my library's website. (Postscript: I'd rather have a root canal than ever watch any movie that includes Tom Cruise.)

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    1. Thank you, Tim. I'm sure you will enjoy Lee Child's thrillers. I wish I could recommend more but this is the only Jack Reacher novel I have read so far.

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  8. I've only read one Lee Child, Reacher book. I liked it pretty well but for some reason haven't had an urge to read another. I think his style kind of wore on me after a while, though it was nice at the beginning.

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    1. Charles, I'd like to read another book or two and see if Lee Child's style holds up as well as it did with his debut novel.

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  9. I've tried to read an early Jack Reacher book, but I couldn't get into it that much.

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    1. Ryan, I quite liked KILLING FLOOR. I'm going to read something else by Lee Child to see if it sustains my interest.

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  10. I've always been a little afraid of Lee Child, just because he' so darn popular. I sometimes feel like if THAT many people like something, it may not be for me, because I tend to think differently than most people. Now and then, it seems, something is popular because it's actually good.

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    1. Kelly, I think I know what you mean. I often don't watch movies if they have been hyped up too much. I didn't watch AVATAR for that reason. I don't have that problem with books though I might be reluctant to read one that has been talked about a lot.

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  11. I've not read any Jack Reacher novels, nor have I seen the movie. No particular interest because what I know of the character has struck me as rather predictable. But now... Your review, Prashant, just might have sold me on at least giving the series a look.

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    1. Thanks, Mathew. Jack Reacher is an unfazed, intimidating and "predictable" character, but it was Child's writing that caught my attention and is tempting me to read more novels in the series.

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  12. I like the Reacher books - I don't rush to read them (and am many books back in the series) but they are reliably entertaining. One thing I like is that Child does good clues, quite like a GA mystery at the other end of the spectrum. Something is dropped into the narrative, and then turns out to be surprisingly relevant...

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    1. Moira, you make a good point about dropping clues — you don't see them till they are suddenly there. I probably won't rush to read his other books but I will be reading them nonetheless. KILLING FLOOR is a good thriller with a believable story.

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