The unlikelihoods and outright impossibilities stack up. Ever a frugal sort, Reacher travels mostly by hitchhiking (as he does at the beginning of “A Wanted Man” and 2001’s “Echo Burning,” both set roughly in the time they were written), even though the practice is roughly as current as bellbottoms and even though his appearance is, as previously established, notably simian. (Not that this deters a series of smart, attractive young women, most of them officers of the law, from jumping into bed with him.) And although he’s a loner who seems never so happy — rather like Agent Cooper in “Twin Peaks” — as when sitting quietly in a diner with a cup of black coffee and a piece of pie, he has an uncanny knack for stumbling into the worst kinds of trouble, almost none of it connected to himself, at least at first.
One minute he’s minding his own business, walking down a back street in some small town, or napping in the back of a Greyhound bus on the way to some bigger town, and the next minute — as Donald Rumsfeld once said about events in Baghdad — stuff happens. And before you know it, Reacher is caught up in some outlandish spiral of mayhem and murder, always involving an innocent victim and a complex criminal scheme masterminded by vicious men (or sometimes women) and culminating, typically, in an assault by Reacher on their heavily fortified lair.
The odds for his survival are never good, but he beats them every time. At the end of 2010’s “61 Hours,” for example, Reacher is inside a storage bunker in South Dakota, hundreds of feet below the ground, when it explodes. But in “Worth Dying For,” published later the same year, there he is again, tangling with a new set of villains in Nebraska, not much worse for wear.
Fortunately, Reacher is well-prepared for such niggling challenges. He was a military police officer in the Army, downsized during the Clinton-era “peace dividend” period — though there was more to it than that, as we learned in last year’s out-of-sequence “The Affair” — and he has all sorts of special training. He’s a marksman of sniper-level skills, as he demonstrates in “Die Trying” (1998), and knows the history, operational details and relative merits of every sort of handgun and rifle known to man. Not that he relies on such weapons, or even prefers them; he has a PhD in the science of hand-to-hand combat, often delivering surgical blows to select parts of his adversaries’ anatomy at just the right velocity and force. (He head-butts with precision and uses his elbows to particularly devastating effect.) He never starts a fight, but once it’s started, he never fails to end it. Open that door, he warns would-be assailants in several variations, and don’t surprised by what pops out at you. Of course they never listen. They learn, eventually, but they do it the hard way.