ANDREW FFRENCH muscles his way into our latest Book of the Month.

THE AUTHOR: BACK in 1995, Jim Grant, right, a 40-year-old father-of-one, got made redundant from his job as a presentation director for Granada TV.

He had decided on a career in television after attending university in Sheffield, where he met his wife, who is from New York.

With a 15-year-old daughter to support when he got the bad news, Grant knew he had to look for an alternative way of earning a living and decided to become a writer.

The Coventry-born author, who grew up in Handsworth, Birmingham, set about finding an agent and publisher and chose the pen name Lee Child because the surname would push him further up the alphabet.

His debut novel Killing Floor came out in 1997 and introduced the anti-hero Jack Reacher.

Child is now 56 and his 18th novel, The Affair, has just come out in hardback.

Thanks to Jack Reacher, Child is the bestselling author in the English-speaking world, and has the biggest-selling back catalogue in the UK.

The author is a multi-millionaire and has apartments in New York, a villa in Provence, and a new home in East Sussex.

Child is 6ft like his hero, although not quite as tall as Jack Reacher – the novelist is 6ft 4ins, whereas Reacher is slightly taller at 6ft 5ins. Apparently Child based 250lb man mountain Reacher on former England rugby star Lawrence Dallaglio, which may be why some fans have been dismayed by the casting of compact leading man Tom Cruise to play the role in a movie version.

THE BOOK: IT’S a well-known fact that women read more novels than men but I was surprised to learn that two-thirds of Lee Child’s readers are women.

Child’s hero Jack Reacher occupies the kind of macho territory that I thought a lot of women readers would find off-putting, but apparently not.

I have spoken to guys who admit to being hooked on Child’s page-turners but it seems that women too are smitten with rugged drifter Jack Reacher, the investigator with a conscience who will sometimes dish out some very rough justice.

In case readers haven’t made the acquaintance of Jack Reacher before, Child paints a picture at the start of the novel by setting out the character’s CV.

And at a glance, you can see just how tough the big man in the brown coat really is. He’s very tall, very broad and served in the US Military Police for 13 years.

Reacher is a small arms expert, is rather good at hand-to hand combat and speaks fluent French and passable Spanish.

Sometimes Reacher’s hands shake if he doesn’t get a coffee quick enough and he has a nasty habit of breaking his opponents’ limbs.

Let’s be frank about this – Jack Reacher is not a pleasant character – but he does possess a keen sense of justice which sometimes makes him go looking for trouble.

And it is one of these dark injustices that leads Reacher off the beaten track in his latest paperback adventure Worth Dying For.

Reacher is driving through Nebraska when he stops off at a desolate motel called The Apollo Inn.

One night he is sitting at the bar and overhears a phone call to the local GP who is sitting alongside him.

The GP is drunk, so Reacher drives him over to the house of a woman in the neighbourhood who has ended up with a broken nose.

It turns out she is the wife of Seth Duncan, the head of a clan of local hauliers who control the entire neighbourhood.

Reacher is on his way to Virginia but he can’t resist taking on the Duncans, and it is while he is performing his heroics that the locals tell him the disturbing tale of an eight-year-old girl who went missing 25 years ago.

The locals think the Duncan family might have had something to do with the girl’s disappearance, so Reacher decides to investigate.

Meanwhile, Child drops some hints about the lucrative cargo the Duncan family is transporting and gets Reacher to dig deeper into the girl’s disappearance.

I’m not a fan of thrillers which focus on missing children or those that involve serial killers – the scenarios are a cop-out when it comes to plotting – but as the crime cartel closes in on Reacher the tension starts to mount and before I knew it I had cleared 200 pages.

Child keeps his sentences short and snappy and each chapter is quite brief too, which guarantees a thrilling pace. But the author is not afraid to attempt a few artistic touches and there are plenty of atmospheric descriptions of the bleak landscape of Nebraska.

Worth Dying For is not a short novel – it’s about 500 pages long – but at no point does it feel overwritten.

Child is perfectly in control of his material and leads the reader towards a devastating conclusion.

After finishing the novel I felt like I needed a lie-down, or a cup of coffee at the very least, and I’ll definitely take a short breather before I catch up with Jack’s next outing.

* Worth Dying For by Lee Child is published by Bantam Books, priced £7.99. You can get it for half price at Waterstones in Oxford and Witney using the voucher printed in the Oxford Mail's entertainment supplement The Guide.