Monday, 7 May 2007

Lee Child: New Readers Start Here

A shot rang out. He’d heard shots before.

But that had been a long time ago.

He’d heard them before, all right. In every other thriller. This sounded like a Baretta .177 with 14 rounds in the clip and an extra shot in the barrel, and an NRA sticker on the soft tan leather and canvas webbing shoulder holster from www.iwantoneofthoseshoulderholsters.com. Could have been. Their shots rang just that way.

To the untrained ear, shots went bang. But he’d been trained. He’d been trained to within an inch of his life.

But that had been a long time ago.

His reflexes had been honed over relentless hours of drill. But that had been an even longer time ago, before he’d been tragically widowed in the backstory which was slowly revealed over a number of books.

Before he’d been in jail. And in Nam. And ended up walking across America with only the clothes he stood up in.
And no baggage.

No baggage that wasn’t psychological baggage. That he had in spades. He’d killed a man with a spade once. It hadn’t been pretty, what a solid steel spade with a 32” T-bar shaft, securely fastened with three galvanised rivets and available from any branch of Homebase for £14.95 could do. In the right hands.

He looked at his right hand. It was firmly attached to the arm fixed to his 6’ 4” frame. For now. Still in pretty good shape for a man his age.

Who had been through what he’d been through.

A lot of people had looked at that hand before. For some of them, it had been the last thing they had seen. And not only when he was pulling a lightswitch in a cheap rented motel room. In Dunbarton Oaks, Illinois.

He had once seen a man strangled with the cord for a lightswitch. But that had been a long time ago. Before Korea.

Before that shot rang out. He knew what that kind of shot meant. It meant that he’d been wandering. His mind had wasted valuable minutes rehashing James Hadley Chase and James Grady and James Patterson. But not Henry James, or William James, or James Joyce. Or St James the Less.

He should have reacted at once. Like Jesse James. He was out of training.

But as he thought it, he realised that his body had already begun to do the work for him. Falling easily into the old routine. Soon he would move his legs, inside the cheap denims he had bought at the general store in Crawfordsville, Indiana; move his arms, inside the checked flannel shirt he had picked up at a K-Mart in Stephenville, in the Texas panhandle.

But that had been a long time ago. Soon it would be time to find out what the hell was going on here. But something sure as hell smelt wrong. Smelt like danger, like the whiff of a minor literary flourish inserted here as what passes for an arresting image.

He had smelt that smell a long time ago, even over the clothes that he wore before they fell off his back and he bought more at the nearest dime store. Not wanting to be tied down. One is always nearer by not keeping still, he thought.

No, on reflection, he didn’t. Thom Gunn was one of the few guns he wasn’t familiar with.

The hell with it. He had nearly used up 850 words already without saying a damn thing. He had always been the strong, silent type, of course.

But that had been a long time ago.

The man with the scar and the soft grey eyes brought the gun up against his head.

“Hold it right there, tough guy,” he said.

It wasn’t going to be his day. He’d had days like this before.

But that had been a long time ago.