A Jack Reacher Prequel with a Female Tag-Team Killing Machine
The Big Thrill Interviews Lee and Andrew Child
By R.G. Belsky
This pair of scary females is knocking off seemingly respectable citizens one-by-one and making their deaths look like unrelated accidents in order to carry out their own secret agenda of revenge. It’s up to Jack Reacher to outsmart the cunning killers at their own game before it’s too late.
“It was great fun coming up with these two women,” said Andrew Child, co-author of THE SECRET with his brother Lee Child who originated the hugely popular Jack Reacher series in 1997.
“Coming up with the right adversary is one of the toughest challenges. Reacher is big, and he has to have an adversary up to his abilities. A lot of what makes a book successful is about a series of instinctive decisions. Right from the beginning we always pictured these two killers as women. Women methodically working their way through a list of victims until they find the answer they’re looking for.”
Andrew Child, whose real last name—like his brother’s—is Grant, has been co-authoring the Jack Reacher books since Lee Child decided to “retire” from full-time writing. He also has his own successful and acclaimed career as an author with a series of thrillers written as Andrew Grant.
Andrew Child says he and his brother Lee got the idea for the plot of THE SECRET from an article they read about well-dressed, respectable people dying in a series of supposed accidents in Russia. “It was so blatant they weren’t accidents—all enemies of Putin. We were interested in that scenario. Loads of dead people in apparent accidents, no apparent connection.”
And, instead of Reacher investigating a series of past murders, we follow the two women murder-by-murder as they carry out their trail of death. “We thought it would be more fun showing the women actually doing things like throwing a victim out of a hospital window,” he said.
THE SECRET is set in 1992—back at a time when Reacher was still in the military.
“No particular reason for that time setting. We just decided we wanted to do a prequel. Readers loved to see Reacher back in the Army.”
So which brother does most of the work on the Jack Reacher books these days—Lee or Andrew?
“It’s kind of hard to define what makes up a book. It’s not just sitting at the keyboard writing. Lee will think about what’s going to happen in the scene he’s about to write, then he’ll move on to the next scene. I roll up my sleeves and get in front of the keyboard. It’s very much a collaboration. And its real fun working together.”
Andrew says he had some trepidation when Lee approached him about the idea of co-authoring the books because of his own writing career. But he soon embraced the idea of working with his brother.
Reacher is completely unyielding. His morals are absolute. And he won’t back off from them. If people choose to cross Reacher, they have to pay the price. If a person has done the wrong thing, then Reacher is driven to make it right.
“Lee stage managed it very carefully. He was getting to the point where he felt he only had a few more books in him. But he knew there were so many Reacher fans out there, and he didn’t want to disappoint them. He was really struggling about that. I was one of the first to ever read Reacher when he wrote Killing Floor. I couldn’t stand the idea of being at fault for there being no more Reacher.”
One other fascinating fact about their writing is that Lee and Andrew Child—like Jack Reacher in the books—consume a tremendous amount of coffee. There have been reports they sometimes each drink more than 30 cups of coffee a day. We asked Andrew if that number was accurate.
“It is. I wouldn’t say I drink that much 365 days. But most of the time I drink what people would say is too much coffee. When I’m at the end of a book, I get tunnel vision, and the more intense I get, the more coffee I need. Lee is the same way. I’m trying to back off a bit between books. If I get to 35, where does it end? But it’s really hard to get enough, and if I don’t, I get horrible headaches and shaking. I sometimes even drink a couple of coffees to get to sleep now.”
Of course, in addition to the best-selling books, Jack Reacher has now become a huge popular figure on screen—first in two movies with Tom Cruise as Reacher and now with an Amazon Prime TV series called Reacher starring Alan Ritchson.
“I think they both do a fantastic job,” Andrew said. “Tom came in from some pretty unfair criticism for the role. He doesn’t have the physicality that Ritchson has. That’s the elephant in the room. People latched onto that. I also feel there’s something about the movie format that isn’t conducive to a Reacher story.
“It’s not long enough at 90 minutes. Fans like to think along with Reacher in the books until he solves the puzzle, and it all makes sense, and you’ve gone through that whole journey with him. It’s more satisfying in a TV series when they’ve got time where they can explore every nuance of the story.”
Whether it’s in the books or movies or TV, the character of Jack Reacher never stays around for very long. He’s soon on his way to the next town, the next story.
“Reacher is a kind of 21st Century version of the Knight Errant. He finds a problem, he sets it straight, and he leaves. The leaving is the most important dynamic. Think about what would happen if he solved the problem in a town, then he moved in next door. You’re going to feel obligated. So, instead, he blows into town, solves the problem in a satisfying way by issuing violence to people who deserve it, and then moves on.”
And yet the character of Jack Reacher always lives by a strict moral code set by Lee and now, Andrew Child too.
“Reacher is completely unyielding. His morals are absolute. And he won’t back off from them. If people choose to cross Reacher, they have to pay the price. If a person has done the wrong thing, then Reacher is driven to make it right. When someone bullies, Reacher cannot walk away. It’s a compulsion, it isn’t a choice—if he sees wrongdoing, he must act.”
Andrew Grant, writing under his own name before joining his brother on the Reacher books, has turned out a number of successful and highly praised thrillers—the most recent being Too Close to Home. It’s the second book in his Paul McGrath series, about an intelligence agent working undercover as a janitor. Grant’s wife Tasha Alexander is also a prominent novelist and best-selling author.
Meanwhile, what’s next for Andrew and Lee Child? Obviously, another Jack Reacher book. “Lee’s tradition was he always started a new book on September 1. A new one is underway—not very long but it has been started.”
The Big Thrill Interviews Lee and Andrew Child