Okay, I'm back. Traveled a few thousand miles, survived a broken computer, and then some.
Per the previous post, I read another novel by Daniel Woodrell, Tomato Red, a great (or at least really good) book that firms up my earlier views. Woodrell writes well, writes about crime and criminals, but he isn't quite writing genre fiction. Tomato Red won a "literary" prize -- best novel from PEN in 1999. Tomato Red includes a murder and detection, but it does not end with a clean resolution (I hope that's not a spoiler). This novel is quite effective, sad and stirring, but if you picked it up with expectations invoked by genre, you will find those expectations thwarted.
Lee Child does not thwart expectations. I read two of his Jack Reacher novels, the first one, Killing Floor, and the first one chronologically, The Enemy. Child does fulfill expectations very well -- he tells fast-moving, intricately plotted stories with strong characters. Reacher is arguably a little too perfect: he's smart, strong and agile, principled, fair, and good-looking. He escapes from dangerous situations, solves conspiratorial crimes, and lands the leading lady. Killing Floor has some plotting elements that stretch too far -- or rely on too much luck -- but even so, it's a ripping yarn. The Enemy, which places the itinerant Reacher back in his former life as an MP investigator, tells the story of an ambitious criminal plot perpetrated within the army in the wake of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
If you want a series with an appealing, super-capable hero, check out one of the Reacher books. (I liked The Enemy more, but Killing Floor is Child's first novel.) If you want to read about an impoverished Southern loser with a good heart who makes a lot of bad choices, read Tomato Red.