PLAYBOY: What writers in your genre do you admire?
CHILD: John Grisham. I think he’s a sophisticated and intelligent writer and that each of his books interrogates the art, experiments to see what fiction really requires. The Runaway Jury has no pleasant characters. You don’t care about any of them. All you’ve got is a central question—what will the verdict be?—and it carries you through. I also like Michael Connelly. He passes what I call the three-minute airport test. If you’re changing planes and have three minutes at the bookstore, grab a Connelly. He never lets you down.
PLAYBOY: What writers in your genre do you dislike?
CHILD: Vince Flynn and Brad Thor. They are essentially contributors to a kind of right-wing bubble. They play to the enthusiasms of the pro-torture audience. Glenn Beck has featured them on his shows. I also don’t like David Baldacci. He’s just overrated.
PLAYBOY: How have your parents responded to your success?
CHILD: My father disapproves of practically everything I do. I’m not Calvinist enough. I buy luxury items. I don’t work in a middle-class job. He’s 88 now and probably won’t make it to 89. He’s part of Tom Brokaw’s “greatest generation.” At the age when I was in college having a good time, he was fighting across Europe as an engineer repairing tanks on the front lines. But it was also a bizarre generation—pinched and unsuited for postwar prosperity.
PLAYBOY: Have you developed expensive tastes?
CHILD: For me, money buys convenience. If I want to go somewhere and there’s an expensive flight I want at 10 o’clock, I’ll take that flight even though I might get one for half the price at one o’clock. And I’ll have a limo at the other end waiting for me. I travel trouble free and first class.
PLAYBOY: Where do you shop for clothes?
CHILD: Lands’ End mail order. You can get a suit there for a couple hundred bucks. And that’s what I wear. I’m not saying I look good, but I guarantee I would not look any better if I went to Armani.
PLAYBOY: Do you throw your clothes away after they get dirty?
CHILD: I take them to the laundry. I don’t live like Reacher. We just got our country house in East Sussex in England and are having it fixed up. It’s in the arts and crafts style, built in the 1920s. We bought a beautiful Renoir painted in 1912. I have a supercharged Jaguar. I have my guitar collection. I actually could afford an even grander life. I err on the side of having less rather than more.
PLAYBOY: How do you relax?
CHILD: In this I am a lot like Reacher. He enjoys his solitude, and I do too. I don’t have that group of male friends that seems to be the American ideal; I don’t have five or six buddies I go to a bar with. I finish work at six p.m. Then I watch baseball on TV. I’m a Yankees fan. If the game finishes at 10, I’ll walk down to the Village to hear what’s playing in the clubs.
PLAYBOY: If you were in distress, do you have a male friend you’d call?
CHILD: Actually, no. Apart from my wife, who by default is my close friend, I’m a fairly isolated person, and I feel fine about it. If I have an emotional wound, I instantly say, “Fuck that,” and it’s gone. It’s probably not a healthy way to deal with things, but I have these imagined ideals against which I measure myself. The heroes for boys of my generation were the RAF bombing crews who faced life with a stiff upper lip. That was very English, and it completely disappeared in the 1990s. When Princess Diana was killed, there was a sea change in Britain. There was this outpouring of cheap emotion that has never stopped. My center of gravity is tied to an earlier time when the masculine thing was to just take it.
PLAYBOY: That sounds like your father. Other than your occasional high-end purchase, have you made no concessions to our fallen time?
CHILD: If I’m feeling stressed, I’ll smoke some weed at night.
PLAYBOY: How often do you smoke?
CHILD: Maybe five nights out of seven. It depends on what I’m doing. I’m a contemplative person, and weed helps me cut through the membranes of daily cares. It simplifies things and allows me to identify the important strands. If I’m struggling on a book, I’ll light a pipe and the answer will sometimes come to me.
PLAYBOY: You must be the world’s most productive pothead.
CHILD: There are others.
PLAYBOY: With the September publication of A Wanted Man, you’re on track to write 20 books in two decades. That’s a lot of work. How many more will you do?
CHILD: Initially I was planning on 21. I wanted to match but, as a matter of respect, not exceed John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee novels. He did 21. That’s one of the best series we have. I mean, I think Cal Ripken should not have exceeded Lou Gehrig’s consecutive game streak. Gehrig’s streak terminated because he had a mortal illness. John MacDonald stopped writing because he died. For all we know, he could’ve written many more. So I feel I should do 21 Reacher novels and stop.
PLAYBOY: You’re almost there.
CHILD: Exactly. But in a human sense this will be incredibly difficult to do because you get seduced by the attention. And you’ve got to have nerves of steel to turn down the money. I do four-book contracts. To walk away from the next one would probably cost me $30 million or $40 million globally. So I’m not sure, but I think I’ll be done sooner than later.
PLAYBOY: Do you know how the series will conclude?
CHILD: I have the title: Die Lonely. I believe Reacher is a noble old warhorse and deserves a spectacular end. I don’t think I should just let him peter out. I have it in my mind to maneuver him into some situation where he must decide either to give up the person he’s protecting or to give up himself. He’ll face a villain he can’t beat, and he’ll choose to sacrifice himself. He will drag himself back to a filthy motel bathroom and bleed to death on the floor.
PLAYBOY: Maybe Reacher will live on in the movies.
CHILD: I have a cameo in Jack Reacher in which I essentially hand Hollywood the baton. In the scene, Reacher has been arrested and is in jail overnight. He’s sprung the next morning by his lawyer. He stops at the front desk of the police station to retrieve his possessions, and a sergeant returns his toothbrush. I play the sergeant.