Winner: Author of the Year
“If there were some sort of prize for Most Widely Admired Thriller Writer, Lee Child would win it time and again,” wrote the critic Sam Leith in a 2018 essay on Child, written for the Times Literary Supplement after its editor, Stig Abell, declared himself a fan on Twitter. “Why, in a crowded field, does Child’s work so thoroughly outpace the rest?" asks Leith.
Part of it must be the consistency: Last year, Child published his 23rd Jack Reacher novel—Past Tense—with number 24 due later this year. In 2015 Child was worth £5.5m through Nielsen's UK Total Consumer Market, and in 2018 that had grown to £7.8m, a 42% increase. Perhaps it is because each new book packs a fresh punch. Past Tense was the biggest selling hardback novel of 2018, spending seven weeks at number one; meanwhile Reacher 22, The Midnight Line, remained at the top of the Sunday Times paperback list for three weeks, and was the second-biggest selling paperback of the year.
Maybe it is his staying power: Child’s Reacher backlist (titles not published in 2018) took in £3m through the TCM—almost 17% of the total backlist Crime & Thrillers market in 2018—outselling the backlist titles of rivals such as John Grisham and Martina Cole.
Could it be his reach? Child’s Reacher series sells across the market, equally strongly in Waterstones and independents as in the supermarkets; he is an e-book bestseller and his audio sales are rising fast; he is a bestselling author in the US, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, and has long dominated the most-borrowed top spot in libraries.
Mostly likely it is because he is just so damned good at it. As the author Margaret Drabble recently wrote: “The book I wish I’d written: anything by Lee Child. What pageturners, what prose, what landscapes, what motorways and motels, what mythic dimensions! He does all the things I could never do, and I read, awestruck, waiting impatiently for the next.”
Child, whose long-time UK editor is Doubleday’s Marianne Velmans, follows Philip Pullman as The British Book Awards’ Author of the Year.