Odd Twist for Hero
Of Popular Thrillers:
Women Like Him, Too
Jack Reacher Breaks Necks
As He Rights Wrongs;
Justice and Vicarious Lust
By JEFFREY A. TRACHTENBERG
June 10, 2006; Page A1
Jack Reacher, the tough-minded hero of a series of best-selling noir thrillers, has all the elements that have made this genre so popular among men for decades. He travels the country dispensing his own form of justice, often violently and without remorse. In one book, "Persuader," he leans over a man sitting in front of a computer monitor and snaps his neck. The man "started clawing at my wrists," he says. "I squeezed harder still."
But despite his brutish ways, Reacher is doing something surprising: winning the hearts of many women readers.
Of the 20,000 fans world-wide that have joined the Reacher Creatures fan club, an estimated 65% are female. Lorri Amsden, a saleswoman at the Poisoned Pen bookstore in Scottsdale, Ariz., said that when Lee Child, the author of the Reacher series, gave a reading at the store last month, 100 fans turned out, of which more than half were female -- far more than other thriller writers garner. Karen Corvello, a store manager at R.J. Julia Booksellers, an independent bookstore in Madison, Conn., that caters primarily to women, says she sells at least 60% of Mr. Child's Reacher books to women. "He's getting more popular with each book," she says.
Mr. Child's first nine Reacher novels have sold 10.3 million copies in 39 world markets, earning him an estimated $18 million before taxes and agent fees. His newest novel, "The Hard Way," is a best-seller and he recently signed a new four-book contract.
Booksellers believe Mr. Child may have tapped into the same audience that has devoured romance novels over the past 20 years, a genre that in recent years has increasingly included more violence and suspense. They say the 9/11 terrorist attacks, coupled with the war in Iraq, have changed what women are willing to read.
"This is not a safe, happy time," observes Vivien Jennings, owner of Rainy Day Books in Fairway, Kan. "Women say they want sensitive men, but in a violent time they don't want men taking a pea shooter to a gun fight."
David Thompson, a salesman at Murder by the Book, a specialty mystery bookstore based in Houston, says several writers are now benefiting from women who are embracing more violent thrillers. He cites Barry Eisler, whose main character is a professional assassin, and the books of Harlan Coben, whose latest title, "Promise Me," features a sports agent with a violent psychopathic sidekick.
"We now have as many women buying the thrillers of Lee Child and Barry Eisler as women buying the books of Agatha Christie and P.D. James," says Mr. Thompson.
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