'This second strand came from Reacher’s starting location. 'Stephen King lives in Maine, and so I thought of doing a Stephen King type set-up because he’s so great at them. He can have the most ordinary quotidian thing going on, but you absolutely know that something sinister is going to happen'. This led Child to invent Patty and Shorty, a young Canadian couple who are driving south to New York City with something to sell. 'I thought – okay, they’re young, they’re poor, their car is rubbish and it’s going to break down. And sure enough, it does break down near a lonely motel in the woods. It’s just a motel as far as we know, but the implicit bargain with the reader is - it’s going to be creepy!'. And creepy it most certainly is. Child’s two parallel strands build the suspense to an almost unbearable degree until they finally converge in the tautest of climaxes. No spoilers, but it’s fair to say that Reacher once again proves – as the strapline promises – 'a righteous avenger for our troubled times'.
The action takes place in and around the real New Hampshire town of Laconia, which is as far as Reacher gets on his migration south from Maine. It is also, as vigilant readers of Child’s previous novels will know, the birthplace of Reacher’s father. 'I originally picked Laconia simply because it sounds like laconic. Which could be the Reacher family motto as nobody says very much. I also mention in an earlier book that Reacher’s father’s perpetual refrain was: "I’m just a plain New Hampshire Yankee”. You know – thrifty and unemotional. So once I’d decided that Past Tense was going to be about Reacher’s dad it had to be set in Laconia'.
But besides ensuring such plot continuity, what is the secret to maintaining a compelling character like Reacher over 23 novels? 'The thing that really liberated me was choosing early on to make Reacher rootless. This gives me tremendous flexibility. Reacher isn’t tied to any location, and he also isn’t tied to any particular stratum of investigation, like say a police sergeant in one particular town would be. That way, the pitch of every story can be radically different'.
Whilst there’s no arguing with over 100 million sales of his novels worldwide (it has been estimated that every 13 seconds, someone, somewhere in the world buys a Lee Child book), I wonder whether he takes any notice of the critical reception his books receive. 'Do I read my reviews? Yes. Not because I need to find anything out though. I’ve lived with the book for a year and I already know where it’s weak and where it’s strong. And I’m never going to modify anything based on a reviewer not liking one of my novels'. Child does believe that respect for the craft of writing thrillers is on the up, however. 'In the past they would have been called pulp fiction or airport books, but I think people are beginning to realise that they can’t be dismissed as just fluff. Even though the subject matter is heavily plot-driven, they are beautifully assembled. And the writers working in this genre at the moment are some of the smartest and most brilliant people you’ll meet'.