Stephen King: Who Says Real Men Don't Read?

The fathers of modern manfiction would be Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and John D. MacDonald, creator of the world's first boat-bum PI. MacDonald's Travis McGee ruled the best-seller lists during the years when reading Playboy was still cool, and may have been the first continuing male character to see women as people rather than just as potential bed partners. Not that Travis was any slouch in bed; he specialized in a form of sexual healing mortal men (such as your faithful correspondent) could only admire. In the 21 McGee novels, the guy must have sexually healed over 200 women. Take that, Dr. Laura!

The best current manfiction writers? I'd say Michael Connelly, Robert Crais, Richard Stark, and Lee Child. Connelly's Harry Bosch is a dogged cop who takes on the LAPD power structure as often as the bad guys. His current girlfriend, a very liberated woman, is an FBI agent. Crais' creations — Elvis Cole and Joe Pike — are as tough as the combat boots they used to wear. Richard Stark's Parker (also no other name) is refreshingly amoral, a thief who always gets away with the swag. In the series' most recent books he has gained a little warmth thanks to Claire, his own longtime companion.

I saved the best for last. Lee Child's tough but humane Jack Reacher is the coolest continuing series character now on offer. Reacher has also rescued his share of damsels in distress. He wanders the U.S., sometimes hitchhiking, more often riding buses. He dresses in cheap workingman's duds bought in chain stores, pays cash, and (this is the part I really love) he used to carry only a toothbrush for luggage. He satisfies the most elemental male daydream, which is at bottom quite sweet: to ramble around and help out when help is needed. Possibly with a Beretta, a blowtorch, and a submachine gun.

Grenades optional.

Originally posted Sep 12, 2008 Published in issue #1012 Sep 19, 2008 Order article reprints