Jack Reacher is in the news … or technically, his creator, Lee Child, is. Lee is passing off the lucrative thriller-writing franchise (over 100 million Jack Reacher books sold to date) to his brother, Andrew.

I’ve enjoyed several Reacher books, especially on overnight flights. The 6’5″ detective stands tall in these easy reads — nearly a foot taller than the actor who portrayed him in two films (Tom Cruise, 5’7″). Sam Leith, the author of an Economist profile, describes Reacher aptly as “a former military policeman turned vigilante who owns only a folding toothbrush and the clothes he stands up in.” The books somehow tempt the reader to fantasize, at least for an idle moment, about what it might feel like to walk away from whatever currently encumbers you with only the clothes on your back (and enough folding money to buy new clothes and toothpaste in whatever remote town you find yourself).

In the profile, however, it was Lee Child’s story that seized my attention. His English childhood in Birmingham sounds wretched. He grew up in a home where parental affection was completely absent and in a neighborhood where brawling was a means to survival. His relationship with his parents was abysmal — describing his father as “a cold, disapproving man, all about denial and self-denial,” while feeling “totally unwanted” by his mother. His parents claimed no faith except what Child calls “the religion of middle-class aspiration.”

I wish Lee Child well as he moves into retirement on the Wyoming ranch he shares with his wife Jane. Still, I was left somewhat empty reading about future aspirations: “Now he plans to read, listen to music, and smoke.” The smoking is apparently his revenge on his parents’ tee-totaling disapproval: “I decided to live the opposite way … to live full-throttle, and aim to have more fun in 60 years than anybody could have in 100, and the devil take the consequences.” Those ‘laws’ his parents once laid down now serve only to stimulate his nicotine habit (Rom 5:20).

At the end of the profile, I found myself hurting for this wildly successful author. No child (or Child in this instance) deserves to grow up in a home long on legalism and short on love and grace. And whether we grudgingly abide by the law or breezily flout it, the law somehow still manages to call the shots. Like his famed protagonist, Child can’t help but keep on running away — never looking back. Fleeing the wounds and judgments of our past might be a sound survival instinct, but it probably won’t bring peace. Would that Reacher, as well as his creator, might realize there are outcomes beyond extreme isolation and petty rebellions. As the apostle Paul might paraphrase it, neither smoking nor non-smoking really matters, “but faith expressing itself in love” (Gal 5:6).