If you aren’t familiar with Lee Child, you should be.
Child, a Britisher and a former television producer, has been writing a thriller a year featuring Jack Reacher, a 6’5” 220 to 250 pound (depends if he’s been working out) former military policeman who has no job, no home, and no ties to anyone or anything.
In each novel, which runs about 400 pages, Reacher essentially rides Greyhounds, gets off somewhere in middle America, and finds trouble or trouble finds him, beats up bad guys and kills a few if they’re really bad, has a brief, eroticized relationship with a beautiful young woman he meets along the way, leaves her behind, and heads out of town, typically on a Greyhound, presumably to find 400 pages worth of trouble for the next book.
If you’ve got a long flight ahead of you, or you’re trapped at home because of a random pandemic of some sort, there’s really no better companion than Jack Reacher. So on a recent flight home from Paris, I found myself reading Tripwire, the third novel in the series, published more than two decades ago.
Twenty years may not seem like a long time in the grand scheme of things, but the 1990s world Lee Child brought to life in those pages seemed positively paleolithic.
It just shows how quickly things change in our hypersonic world.
First, the bad guys’ office was located on the 88th floor of the South Tower of the World Trade Center.
Yes, that World Trade Center.
That was an awakening, in and of itself, to read a novel that took for granted the existence and indeed the permanence of the Twin Towers.
Next, cell phones were not prevalent back then. Reacher certainly didn’t carry one, although he doesn’t carry them in current novels, either.
Part of his charm is in living off the grid. If he needs a phone, he finds one somewhere.
The beautiful young woman in this story had a big job and as a result, a phone in her car.
Not in her pocket; in her car. Built right into the car. Remember those days?
So you have a still-standing Twin Towers, analog car phones, and no cell phones in everyone’s pockets. Ah, the Nineties.
But wait, there’s more.
Reacher needed to do some research, to look up an investigator who had gotten killed shortly after interrogating him.
So Reacher did what people have done for decades, or even centuries when they needed information.
He went to the library.
And he found the information he needed in…wait for it…phone books.
If you are under the age of 30, a phone book is…never mind, you can just look it up on Google.
Next, when it comes to communications tools, Jack Reacher is no James Bond, outfitted by Q with the latest and greatest of high-tech gadgets.
So when Reacher needed to connect with someone, he got a pocketful of quarters and headed to a payphone.
Now, if you’re under 30, let me explain what a payphone is.
It’s a publicly shared phone built into a little booth on street corners or in public places like airports or restaurants.
If someone was using the phone, you had to wait.
They had coinboxes, and you’d put a quarter in.
Along the lines of phone books and phone booths, when the bad guy wanted to make a phone call from his bad guy lair at the top of the Trade Center, he had to dial nine for an outside line.
Dialing nine for an outside line? Made me feel young again!
I could go on, but you get the point. It’s amazing how, one by one, all the things that we used to assume would always be with us, from the World Trade Center to the payphone, are no more.
We live in more connected times, to be sure, and a wealth of information lies at our digital fingertips.
I must admit, though, reading Tripwire made me feel nostalgic for the 1990s, a time when technology had not come to dominate our lives, as it has today.
Maybe a little disconnection, which is what the pre-iPhone was all about, wasn’t such a bad thing.