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New to Jack Reacher? These are the best books to get you started

Ellen Akins

THE WASHINGTON POST – Jack Reacher has been astride the American literary landscape, stumbling upon nefarious plots and dispatching evildoers, through 26 books and 25 years – and still he has his sceptics.

A six-foot-five, 250-pound ex-Army major, he travels the country carrying nothing but a toothbrush, passport and ATM card – plus an encyclopaedic knowledge of weapons and hand-to-hand combat, a Sherlock Holmesian command of arcane but invaluable details and an uncanny knack for telling time without a watch.

So sure, Reacher might strain credulity, especially when Hollywood could find no more likely actor to play him than the tiny if feisty Tom Cruise. But now, with Amazon’s new series, based on the novel Killing Floor those doubts can be put to rest, because: Alan Ritchson. The actor is 37, which is far too young, or would be if Killing Floor were happening now, because Reacher was born in 1960, which makes him way too old to be hitchhiking around the country, knocking out terrorist cells with his bare hands.

But Killing Floor was Lee Child’s first Reacher book, published in 1997, when the big guy was, that’s right, 37. At six-foot-three, Ritchson is a little short, but the few inches he’s missing in height he probably makes up for in muscle, as anyone can see when the man takes a shower…wowza.

The point is, we now have proof that there can be a man of Reacher’s stature with Reacher’s moves. Then again, the outlandishness of the Reacher books is what makes them so fun, grounded as they are in the character’s outrageously detailed knowledge of every element that factors into each plot.

Despite his signature statement, “I said nothing” (or, in the third-person novels, “Reacher said nothing”), he invariably elaborates to such a ludicrous extent that you’re subdued into believing anything.

After that, it’s so much easier to root for the human superhero who rights wrongs wherever he finds them (and he finds them wherever he goes), no matter how many bodies he leaves in his wake and no matter how unlikely the manoeuvres by which good – battered and beaten but unbroken – conquers evil.

The uninitiated (and there must be at least two dozen left in North America) may wonder which Reacher book to read first. The best?

Every reader seems to have an answer, and after a scientific survey of global opinion and the application of the rules of ranked choice voting, here are the results:

Killing Floor

In the book that launched the series, Reacher arrives by Greyhound in Margrave, a fictional Georgia town where his brother once told him an actual blues musician, Blind Blake, might’ve died. Reacher is immediately charged with a recently discovered murder, because only a stranger would commit murder in Margrave, and Reacher is the only stranger in Margrave.


This is a book with a bonus, as the plot – which involves Reacher working unofficially with the DEA to infiltrate a drug-smuggling operation masquerading as an Oriental carpet business, only to discover that the kingpin’s housekeeper is also an undercover federal agent trying to infiltrate an arms-smuggling operation – oh, right, the plot… brings back a villain who, 10 years earlier, was shot point-blank three times by Reacher, fell 120 feet onto rock, bounced into the ocean and disappeared.

Running Blind

In the UK, this book was called The Visitor, which was deemed too alien-adjacent for American readers. In a plot so complicated that it will leave you longing for the simplicity of opera, what’s most noteworthy is the method of the serial murderer, who leaves her (oops, spoiler) victims in bathtubs filled with army-issue camouflage paint.

One Shot

A former Army infantry sniper is arrested for shooting five victims with six shots. But, as we learn, the military sniper’s creed is: “One shot, one kill.” So, what sort of sniper misses a target? Reacher wonders, so we do, too – and darned if our curiosity doesn’t lead us to a Russian gang masquerading as legitimate business executives, with an 80-year-old capo who wanted one of those five victims dead. Come to think of it, didn’t the villain in Running Blind kill many to muddy the murder of one intended victim? Extra points.