Jack Reacher’s Carbon Footprint: Reading Airport Novels Irresponsibly

Philip Howell


This paper examines calls for fiction to not only recognise but address catastrophic climate change, by for instance promoting environmentally-responsible behaviour. It looks at the protagonists of two long-running series of thrillers – Lee Child’s Jack Reacher, and Daniel Silva’s Gabriel Allon books – considering them as representatives of ‘airport fiction’, but more specifically tracing the affinities and correspondences between air travel and this kind of popular fiction. I draw out the meaning of air travel in the works of Child and Silva, noting the demands of plot and characterisation, but also discussing the role of genre conventions, framing assumptions, and reading habits that help to define airport fiction. However, I also calibrate the carbon costs of the fictional protagonists in their twenty-year careers, not just to illustrate the significance of flying or not flying, but also to show how easy and straightforward it is to critique popular fiction for its lack of environmental awareness. Besides its contribution to understanding the literary geography of popular thrillers, this paper imagines a ‘low-carbon literary criticism’ in order to forestall the possibility of an aggressively literal-minded approach to fictional characters’ behaviour. The paper argues that scepticism towards the influence of literature is in order, and that the ball is in the court of ecocritics to show that the likes of ‘cli-fi’ are an effective way of promoting climate-conscious behaviour.


ecocriticism; cli-fi; air travel; popular fiction; Lee Child; Daniel Silva

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