It was the 17th March 2019. I remember the date clearly, just like Lee Child remembers the date he heard his first Beatles’ song – 23rd August 1963, on a rainy afternoon in Wales, sitting in the family’s thirdhand grey Rover to escape from the holiday caravan, when ‘She Loves You’ burst out of the old tube radio and changed his life forever.
By that time I was about halfway through writing The Reacher Guy, and 17th March was engraved on my brain as the date Killing Floor was first published by G. P. Putnam’s Sons in New York and Jack Reacher was launched on an unsuspecting world. It was also the day the first big movie offer came in from Hollywood, with Oscar-winner Mark Johnson as producer of record. Maybe a guy like Howie Long, ex-NFL defensive end turned actor, could do Reacher: Lee’s original model had been England rugby player Lawrence Dallaglio, or alternatively, ‘the body of Bruce Willis with the head of William Hurt’.
It was on the twenty-second anniversary of that auspicious day that I first started thinking seriously about pictures as well as words. I was already well acquainted with the silver-framed family photographs on display in Lee’s Manhattan apartment – the five portraits of himself as a baby he’d inherited on the death of his parents. But it was only on that Sunday that I finally got to sift through the boxes and – best of all – browse the album created for Jim and Jane Grant by their daughter, Ruth. At last, the wedding photographs, the student digs, the new parents! And the only picture I ever saw of the infant James with his parents, the youngest son in those days but still smiling, not yet oppressed by his older brother. The four of them are standing in front of a mill somewhere round East Belfast, where Lee’s great-grandparents used to work.
Then old friends got into the swing of it too. Steve sent me a selection of black-and-white photos from the early 1980s, including one of Jim with his best friend Rob. Jim had recently been promoted from assistant to transmission controller at Granada Television and bought his second house, moving from Stalybridge to Alderley Edge, likewise on the outskirts of Manchester. Ian, one-time assistant to Jim at GTV, emailed pictures of a note accompanying a copy of the UK first edition of Killing Floor, dedicated to his two children, Ben and Lucy, ‘the origin of the names’ (of the Hubble children Reacher is called upon to protect). David, geographer and pet-shop owner from Kirkby Lonsdale, posted me an irresistibly dated photograph of Lee’s first-ever public signing, at the Bookstore on Market Street, with Ruth standing proudly by his side and above his head a sign in block capitals reading: ‘LOCAL AUTHOR’.