Jack Reacher, one of the most prolific and popular fictional crime fighters, has come to New Hampshire.
Lee Child's 23rd novel of the Reacher series, "Past Tense," is set almost entirely in the Granite State as the protagonist decides to take a detour from a Maine-to-California cross-country trip.
What's the literary reason? The vagabond traveler and former military police cop spots a sign at a fork in the road while hitchhiking. There's one spur heading toward "Portsmouth" and the other goes to "Laconia."
The most ardent Reacher fans probably know Child in a short story titled "Second Son" identified Laconia as the place where Reacher's father, Stan, grew up.
During a telephone interview, Child revealed there was a marketing reason to bring Reacher's travels here.
"New Hampshire readers connect with Reacher so I was asked to set a book there," Child said.
On a per-capita basis the tall, blunt-talking, pugilistic standout Reacher is as popular here as anywhere else in the U.S., Child said.
"People think of the publishing business as this happy-go-lucky business, you write a book, you get published, you wait to see how well it does," said Child, 63.
"There is a lot of analysis behind it. The publishers do try to give input on what might be popular. We did a sort of analysis behind it, which was where in the country would the Reacher readers be and here was some of the highest density."
"New Hampshire was way up there."
Child believes this may be because New Hampshire residents are known for being self-reliant and no-nonsense with a libertarian streak.
"All my life I have loved the motto live free or die; that is certainly him," the English-born Child said of Reacher.
"In some cases it is ludicrously overblown and dramatic, but it's also a fabulous way to look at your life as well.
"It's totally who Reacher is."
Indeed, there it is on page 146. In the book, a retired teacher decides to risk arrest by showing Reacher a private piece of property that has a direct connection to Reacher's father.
"Wait," the guy said, "I'll come with you."
"Who will know?"
"Live free or die," Reacher said. "I saw it on your license plate."
This version is as quick a read as Reacher's other tales. Like all the others, there are plot twists (about his dad) even as Reacher finds himself again in the middle of a dangerous rescue mission.
Don't look for unlimited local color references to Laconia landmarks in this book.
Child describes the downtown's retail district pretty accurately and makes reference to the county and city offices that exist.
But the author stressed his works aren't meant to create a mirror image of these locations.
"I don't do it realistically; it is much more of a feeling," Child said.
"I immediately apologize to the people who live in Laconia, those who live there and might think it's not depicted accurately. I have to remember I'm writing for readers who live around the world, so I try and capture the essence of the place."
Most of Reacher's books have been set in the Midwest and West; this is the first one based in New England.
Child said he doesn't visit somewhere and then write the book from his experiences but does draw on personal impressions.
"The internet is great for all the details of this, but it is bad when it comes to capturing the spirit of the place," Child said.
"In most cases, I will have been there for some other reason - maybe promoting a previous book, maybe seeing a friend. I'll be there without any thought of a book at all.
"Years later when I am searching for the mood and the feel I will remember that would be the right place to set this scene in.
"So the answer is, it is physically material to be there but almost entirely in reverse."
Child thought it was a good time to write a book that fills in the mystery of Reacher's father, who in an earlier novel is only introduced as a "plain New Hampshire Yankee."
"It was really a time for a book about his dad. We have covered his mother in some previous books and so on," Child said.
"When I started this I was anxious to get away from that cliché that he was a tough guy because he had a tough dad, but actually he was a tough guy because he had a very tough mom."
Child's other career
When he started the series in 1997, Child, a former British television producer, put heavy pressure on himself by committing to write at least one a year.
He begins each one every year on Sept. 1, the anniversary of his having been downsized and summarily dismissed by England's Granada Television network in 1995.
"I work as many days and for as long as I can until the book is finished, which is usually the next March," Child said.
"I never write in the morning. I firmly believe that nothing of value is done in the morning. I usually start after lunch and will work pretty late."
Child also deliberately bounces back and forth through Reacher's life so the series is not chronological.
"Logically doing it the chronological way makes sense because this is how we live our lives, but I don't want the next book to be predictable to me or the reader. I don't want everyone to know where the next book will go," Child said.
"If a friend tells you to read this great book he's read and you have to read the previous 12 in the series for it to make sense you are kind of put off putting your toe in the water."
"I sort of think about it a little bit. Fundamentally it is a transaction. Right? If the reader wants it, it would be very stupid for me to say no. If people want them, I will keep supplying them," Child summed up.
"I have been in show biz my whole life. Obviously it is the same thing in sports, you don't want to be the embarrassing guy who has stayed on the stage for too long.
"Sadly, what people remember is the late failure rather than the early success so picking a moment to get out, now that's an art."