Review: Killing Floor by Lee Child

Killing FloorThe first Jack Reacher novel — and still one of the best.

One of my favourite things in life — seriously, one of my absolute favourite things— is re-reading my favourite series and charting the development of the author and their protagonist. Over the past couple of years, I’ve re-read Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch novels, and have returned to Ian Rankin’s Rebus novels. I’d love to delve back into Matthew Reilly’s work — Ice Station was such a monumental book for me and completely obliterated my perceptions of what a written narrative could accomplish. But for the foreseeable future I’ve reunited with my old friend: the nomadic harbinger of justice, Jack Reacher, and his creator, Lee Child.

I’ve bemoaned the staleness of the ‘Reacher formula’ in recent years — the most recent novels in particular, Personal and Make Me — and have been trying to decide whether my tastes are somehow evolving, whether I’m the problem, or if the latest novels just haven’t quite hit the heights of their predecessors. Not that Mr. Child should be particularly perturbed by my criticisms: his books remain bestsellers, and I’ll remain loyal to Jack Reacher for a long time to come. Understand, I’m not saying Personal and Make Me were bad books — they were just 3-stars rather than the usual 4 or 5.

Killing Floor is fascinating for several reasons, particularly when examining the text with the gift of hindsight. Reacher is far more talkative in his debut than he is today; far more excitable and eloquent, and prone to moments of fear. Everything we love about him is there, but he hasn’t quite been firmly moulded yet; Child is still working out the kinks in his design, manipulating the character’s traits into the perfect protagonist. Same goes for Child’s prose; it’s still in the developmental stage, still being refined, but damn, it’s still a level above the competition.

The novel is set in Margrave, Georgia — a throwaway town in the middle of nowhere, but a place Reacher has never been, so it’s worth a stop. Besides, his brother Joe mentioned a blues musician named Blind Blake died there; perhaps there’s a plaque. But not long after he sets foot in the diner, Reacher is arrested for murder, and quickly becomes ingrained in a deep-rooted counterfeiting operation. Killing Floor is pure Reacher, and follows the formula that made Child’s novels mega-sellers: the hero walks into a town and rights its wrongs. Simple, but effective; done to death, but somehow elevated in Lee Child’s hands.

Killing Floor remains a wonderful thriller, full of brilliant characters and the heart-thudding tension the series is now famous for. Scenes that particularly stand out include Reacher’s visit to the local penitentiary, where he’s wrongfully isolated in general population, and Reacher’s brutal takedown of the men hired to kill him on a stormy night, thunder crackling above. It’s great stuff, and you won’t read better choreographed scenes.

So, a fine start to the series, then. And a reminder of why I fell in love with Jack Reacher, and Child’s thrillers, in the first place. If memory serves, I liked Die Trying even more. We’ll see.

ISBN: 9780553826166
Format: Paperback (198mm x 127mm x 33mm)
Pages: 528
Imprint: Bantam Books (Transworld Publishers a division of the Random House Group)
Publisher: Transworld Publishers Ltd
Publish Date: 5-Aug-2010
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

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