David Baldacci’s new bestseller-to-be is a good example of a certain type of commercially successful novel. Its hero is a warrior and patriot who does battle against the forces of evil. Although often outnumbered by his enemies, and face-to-face with death, he never surrenders. Combat aside, he loves children, honors his father — himself a great warrior in his day — and sometimes dallies with women, but only if they leave him no choice. The book is a fantasy, a prose cartoon, but if you buy into its highly improbable plot, it’s readable enough and at times even exciting.
Baldacci’s hero, John Puller, was introduced in last year’s bestseller, “Zero Day.” The most interesting thing about him is how much he resembles Lee Child’s hero, Jack Reacher. Beyond their similar names, both are huge men: Puller is “almost six feet four” and weighs about 232 pounds, and Reacher is 6-5and 250. Both men learned the killing arts in the U.S. military: Reacher retired after a dozen years as a military policeman, and Puller, an Army Ranger and combat veteran, is still active as an agent of the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division. Reacher hitchhikes around Middle America confronting crime; Puller travels via rental cars and thus far has fought evildoers in West Virginia and the Florida panhandle. I have no idea if these resemblances are coincidence or not, but it must be said that Child’s novels are more crisply written and somewhat more attuned to reality.