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An object lesson in how to write within the genre
on 28 March 2014
Having recently read “Killing Floor” I decided to read Lee Child’s second Jack Reacher novel “Die Trying”. On some levels it’s a very different proposition to the first novel.
For a start “Killing Floor” was written as a singular first person narrative. This gave it an immediacy and an individual viewpoint throughout. However, this writing discipline brings about certain restrictions. All of the action needs to be viewed through the protagonist’s eyes. Anything which occurs “out of shot” has to be eventually discovered by the protagonist to bring it into the plot.
Child has chosen to write “Die Trying” in the third person. This opens up a host of opportunities for a wider plot to take place around and beyond the immediate action involving both Reacher and a kidnapped woman claiming to be an FBI agent. The plot moves through so many complicated somersaults that the third person approach was probably the only way that Child could approach the narrative. However his skill as a writer is evident in the deft way that he handles the third person narration without losing any of the impact of his debut novel.
One key difference is that in “Killing Floor” all of the minor characters interact with Reacher and are obviously seen through his eyes. He becomes a filter for the reader. This constantly keeps him at the centre of the action. In “Die Trying” most of the minor characters do not interact with Reacher until the climax of the book; they have a life of their own, their own sphere of existence. This creates a very different dynamic to the book which is not a criticism, merely an observation.
Child is a master of pace and timing. Just like a sniper he knows when to squeeze the trigger, and he always hits his target with an uncanny accuracy.
As the action in the novel builds to a climax the set-up involves some complicated choreography. Child’s skill as a writer cuts through the complexity and makes the action clear, crisp and tense. For any budding thriller-writers it’s an object lesson in how to write within the genre. I have a feeling that I’ll be reading the other seventeen Reacher novels.