This book claims to be among the first of its kind – an over-the-shoulder biography of a novel in progress – and perhaps it is, but as recently as 2012 a similar project was undertaken as part of the BBC’s Imagine… series. The documentary followed Ian Rankin as he wrote one of his Inspector Rebus novels and it was another reminder that, to the naked eye, the work of writing is indistinguishable from daydreaming. No matter how far the camera zoomed into the back of Rankin’s head – at one point the whorl of his hair filled the screen – the viewer failed to catch sight of talent unfolding in real time.
Reacher Said Nothing, which chronicles Lee Child’s writing of Make Me, the twentieth novel in the popular Jack Reacher series, is superior to the Rankin documentary because, at its best, it sidesteps the impossible task of explaining how a thriller gets written page by page. Child’s self-mythologising and his uniquely adoring fan base are the real subjects.
Andy Martin, an academic specialising in French literature, plays the awestruck Boswell figure, knocked over by the slightest Childean gesture. Even when Child is fumbling in the dark, Martin is eager to be impressed: ‘I liked that about Lee’s writing. He didn’t know what he was doing.’ To Martin, Child