There’s a rule in writing having to do with coincidences. If you get too many of them, the audience will stop believing what you’re writing. This is the case with Killing Floor, the book which launched the incredibly long running, and profitable, Jack Reacher series. Here, we’re asked to believe an ever expanding set of randomly occurring incidents, which just happen to lead our hero to all the answers AND give him a motive for sticking around in the first place.
Reacher is the kind of brawny, barely nuanced character who feels like a bit of authorial wish fulfillment crossed with 80s indestructible action hero. It’s not surprising when a Jack Reacher film was finally made, it was a vehicle for Tom Cruise (completely wrong according to the text’s description but completely right in terms of attitude and ability).
The plot follows Reacher, an ex-military police murder investigator, as he drifts into a small southern town where he is immediately arrested for a crime he could not have committed. And here the clichés start. In no particular order: Small southern town run by corrupt family and has been for generations? Check. Hot female police officer who falls in love with our protagonist but you know it’s not going to work out by the end of book? Check. Sympathetic and slightly comic black folk who know what’s going on and provide timely assistance and clues at exactly the moment needed? Two of ‘em! Evil patriarch of said family is bad enough but even eviler son who has designs on hot female police officer? That’s here, too. I can keep going but you get the idea.
As things progress, Reacher keeps putting himself, and others, into dangerous situations in order to prove his theories or just show off for the girl. By the time we get to end, though, things begin to fall apart. Without giving anything away, when everything starts to become clear with the plot, the characterization falls apart. An absolutely meticulous criminal operation becomes a keystone cop slapstick affair. What was at one point a crime measured to the exact gram, becomes a literal heap and that’s the point where, if you’re paying attention, you start to notice the plot holes.
Thing is, though, the writing itself isn’t half bad. Taking into account this is a first novel and the first of a series, I have high hopes for the rest. I’ll certainly give Reacher another chance when he comes up again in the rotation.