Lee Child has a great public persona: he is gracious and generous with readers and fans. But Jim Grant is a reticent and very private man. This rags-to-riches literary and social biography is based principally on disarmingly frank personal conversations and correspondence with the author since 2016 and privileged access to archival materials. It consists almost entirely of original material, and is the nearest thing the world is likely to get to the autobiography he does not intend to write.
In 2016, the year his 21st Jack Reacher novel was published, Lee Child made 90 cents a second. Almost $30 million. That’s if you believe every word the author tells his biographer in this exhaustive, authorised account of how a Midlands-born scholarship boy called Jim Grant became a Manhattan-based publishing sensation called Lee Child ... One of the more interesting strains of this book, though, is the extent to which both Lee Child and Jack Reacher are creations ... Truth and fiction may get blurred now and then, but, blimey, future biographers will be hard pushed to outdo Martin for detail. You’ll emerge from the first 300-odd pages knowing more about his formative years that you do about your own ... The best chapters are when Martin details Child’s incredible focus as he began his second career ... Millions of us powerless readers are desperately keen that the new Reacher guy will be able to keep the unputdownable revenge fantasies coming.
In her first biography, based on personal correspondence with Child, Martin offers a variety of intriguing stories about her subject. However, the narrative is so crowded with extraneous material (the author profiles seemingly anyone who ever knew Child) and so prone to redundancies and head-scratching allusions—e.g., the lasting impact of tennis great Chris Evert's "glow"—the reading experience becomes a chore ... As for Child's exceptional style as a novelist, the fawning Martin offers little critical analysis beyond comparing him to Camus and Borges ... An exhaustive and exhausting account for only the most committed fans.
Martin, who has taught literature and languages at King’s College London and CUNY Graduate Center, debuts with a clunky look at Lee Child’s transformation from laid-off British television worker to mega-bestselling author of the Jack Reacher books ... While Martin is at pains to quote admiring testimonials to Child’s niceness and humility, Child doesn’t emerge as a particularly appealing figure ... Unsourced and improbable claims—such as that in 2019 almost 50 Reacher books were shoplifted in Manhattan every day—don’t help. Nor does Martin’s hyperbolic estimation of the author, whom she compares at one point to both John Donne and Dylan Thomas. The most devoted Reacher fans may be able to struggle through, but general thriller and mystery fans need not apply.