62 pages 2 hours read

Lee Child

Killing Floor

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1997

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Summary and Study Guide


Killing Floor is the first novel in Lee Child’s bestselling Jack Reacher series. The novel was first published in 1997, and this study guide uses the 2012 second Jove premium edition. The series’ protagonist, Jack Reacher, is a former soldier in the United States Army where he led a division of the military police. Reacher is tall, muscular, and highly intelligent. His investigative skills combined with his physical prowess make him an intimidating opponent for the novel’s antagonist, Kliner, and those involved in the conspiracy in the fictional town of Margrave, Georgia where Killing Floor takes place. As Reacher adjusts to civilian life and explores the country on his own terms, the novel explores themes of Vigilantism and the State, Breaking the American Dream, and Reacher’s role as a teacher for those whom he helps along the way.

Content Warning: This study guide contains depictions of violence, references to racist attitudes and language, and describes threats of sexual violence.

Plot Summary

At the opening of the novel, Reacher is arrested in Margrave, Georgia for a murder he did not commit. At the police station, Reacher meets Roscoe, the only woman on the force, and Finlay, the captain of the detective bureau and the only Black man in the department. Finlay interrogates Reacher about the murder of an unnamed man just outside of town near Kliner Industries; the police chief, Morrison, identifies Reacher as a man he saw hanging around the crime scene. Finlay shows Reacher a scrap of paper recovered from the victim’s shoe: it has the word “Pluribus” typed on it alongside a phone number. At Reacher’s suggestion, Finlay calls the phone number and learns it belongs to a banker, Paul Hubble, who lives in Margrave. Finlay sends Officer Baker to bring Hubble in for questioning. Reacher waits in the holding cell, and when Hubble confesses to the murder, both men are sent to Warburton State Prison for the weekend while the department checks their alibis.

In Warburton, the assistant warden, Spivey, places Reacher and Hubble on the third floor with the lifers instead of in the holding area on the sixth floor. Spivey’s mistake leads Reacher and Hubble to be attacked in their cell and in the bathrooms and Reacher wins every fight with brutal efficiency. Spivey moves them to the correct floor, and Reacher wonders if their misplacement was truly an accident. Roscoe works all weekend to check their alibis and is able to have them released from Warburton. Hubble confides in Reacher that the people he works for will kill him if he talks and hurt his family, too.

Reacher plans to buy Roscoe lunch to thank her, but their plans are cancelled when a second body is found at the murder site. At the morgue, Reacher reads the postmortem report on the first victim and realizes the man is his estranged older brother, Joe Reacher. Joe was shot twice in the head, then viciously beaten after death. The second victim was also shot and tried to flee; he was found halfway up the interstate embankment. Now that the crime is personal, Reacher decides to stay in town and punish those responsible for Joe’s murder.

Reacher explores Margrave and meets an elderly barber who claims to know about Blind Blake, a blues musician Reacher is interested in who apparently died in Margrave 60 years prior. The barber says his sister used to sing with Blind Blake. He also discourages Reacher from asking questions about the Kliner family, owners of Kliner industries, after Reacher sees Kliner’s son watching him from a black pick-up truck. Reacher reads a newspaper article about a year-long Coast Guard blockade at the Florida ports finally coming to an end. He stays the night at Roscoe’s house, and they begin a sexual relationship.

In the morning, they go out for breakfast and Roscoe offhandedly comments that their waitress is the one wearing glasses. This reminds Reacher of the prison attacks in Warburton; Hubble wore glasses and he did not. In the first attack, Hubble’s glasses were broken and Reacher took a pair from their assailant as a trophy. He was wearing them in the bathroom when the second attack happened, and those men targeted him specifically. The glasses were the identifying factor that, he realizes, Spivey used to instruct their attackers to pick the right man.

Reacher visits Hubble’s wife and learns Hubble disappeared right after they were released from Warburton. Reacher assumes Hubble is dead. Roscoe is called to another murder scene: Morrison and his wife were tortured, violated, and cruelly murdered in their own home. Roscoe is deeply unsettled by the scene, and Reacher realizes the way Morrison was killed is exactly the way Hubble said his bosses would kill him. Reacher decides Hubble and Morrison are part of the same conspiracy.

The mayor, Grover Teale, appoints himself chief of police in Morrison’s absence. He sends them chasing leads that go nowhere, and Reacher thinks Teale must also be involved. Finlay contacts his friend, FBI agent Picard, to set up protective custody for Charlene and her children. Reacher and Roscoe spend the night out of town, and in the morning they find Roscoe’s house broken into, presumably by the same killing squad that murdered Morrison and his wife.

The medical examiner identifies the second victim as Sherman Stoller, a truck driver. Reacher and Roscoe talk to Stoller’s family while Finlay pulls an old arrest record. Stoller used to drive for Kliner Industries, and Stoller’s ex-wife suspected him of stealing from the company. Finlay contacts the Treasury Department where Joe worked, and a woman named Molly Beth Gordon agrees to help them. She was very close to Joe and wants justice for him. Reacher sees two Hispanic men following him in a sedan; he lures them outside of town, kills them both, and stuffs their bodies in the sedan’s trunk. He is surprised to find Spivey’s body already in the trunk. Reacher abandons the car in long-term parking at the Atlanta airport.

Molly Beth flies down to Atlanta to bring them copies of Joe’s files, but she is killed at the airport and her luggage is stolen. With Picard’s help, Reacher and Roscoe find Joe’s rental car and his hotel, but his personal effects have already been picked up by someone pretending to be Joe. They search the nearby dumpsters and find Joe’s garment bag; inside one of the shoes is a note that matches the scrap recovered from the crime scene. The page contains a series of initials and corresponding phone numbers under the heading “E Unum Pluribus.” At the bottom of the note, Joe wrote “Stollers’ Garage” and “Gray’s Kliner File.” Gray is Roscoe’s mentor who allegedly killed himself earlier that year.

Reacher, Roscoe, and Finlay search the records room for Gray’s files on Kliner, but the box labeled Kliner is full of unrelated documents. Reacher recalls Roscoe gave him Gray’s old Desert Eagle handgun, and he checks the box it was hidden in. Under the lid, he finds a small key. Roscoe remembered Gray went to the barbershop regularly, and they ask the barbers to see what he left there. From Gray’s files, Reacher learns that Kliner was also investigated by a New Orleans police officer for at least eight murders—the officer’s initials and the department’s phone number were one of the items on Joe’s note. Finlay reads Kliner’s tax returns and discovers that despite donating millions to Margrave every year, Kliner Industries reports no income. Roscoe finds Gray’s surveillance reports of Kliner’s warehouse. They put their information together rand determine that Kliner is running a counterfeiting scheme and uses the warehouse to stockpile money.

Reacher calls the other numbers on Joe’s note; one is a professor at Princeton who was killed the night before. The other is a Columbia professor who is still alive. Reacher flies to New York to meet with him. The professor, Kevin Kelstein, is an expert on counterfeiting and collaborated with Joe’s project in the Treasury Department. Joe was determined to end all counterfeiting of American currency, and he could not figure out how Kliner got the right paper for his fake bills.

In Margrave, Reacher tests Baker’s involvement in the conspiracy, and just as he predicts, the killing squad comes for him. He kills all five men, one of whom is Kliner’s son. Afterwards, Reacher looks through Hubble’s house. He realizes that Hubble’s old bank job was in currency management. When he was laid off, Kliner poached him and used his skill set to acquire large quantities of one-dollar bills. They shipped the bills to his chemical plant in Venezuela to be bleached clean and reprinted and then returned them to the Margrave warehouse for distribution. Picard asks Roscoe to help him watch Charlene and the kids so he does not risk losing his job by being out of the office so often.

Reacher and Finlay revisit Stoller’s parents’ house and find two boxes of money hidden in their garage. They visit Picard at his office and fill him in on their theory. Picard agrees to follow them to Margrave. Reacher and Finlay wait in the police station. Picard enters and pulls his weapon on them. Teale and Kliner walk in moments later, and Kliner tasks Reacher with bringing Hubble back or else he will kill Roscoe, Charlene, and the children. Reacher taunts Kliner about his “missing” son.

Picard and Reacher drive out to find Hubble, who Reacher still thinks is dead. At a gas station, while Picard is distracted talking to the two Hispanic men Kliner sent to tail them, Reacher punctures one of their car’s tires. Later, when they pull over to change the flat, Reacher cuts open the box of money in the trunk. In the flurry of bills, Reacher kills the Hispanic men and shoots Picard. He drives off to Augusta, Georgia, where he calls cheap motels near bus stations until he finally finds Paul Hubble hiding under an alias.

Reacher and Hubble return to Margrave and free Finlay from the holding cell in the police station. Finlay sets the station on fire. They go to the barbershop to strategize, and the elderly owner introduces Reacher to his sister. She tells him how Blind Blake died: he accidentally bumped into a young Grover Teale, and Teale faked being more hurt than he really was. His father, Caspar Teale, killed Blind Blake in the street.

Reacher, Hubble, and Finlay go to Kliner’s warehouse. They cut open the gate with bolt cutters, and Finlay kills Baker as he patrols outside. Hubble unlocks the door at the top of the fire escape, which opens into the office where he used to work. His children are sleeping on the floor. After getting the children out, Reacher and Finlay see Roscoe and Charlene being forced to work, packing money into boxes. Picard never took them to a safe house; they were hostages all along. Finlay lights one of the piles of money on fire, and the diversion gives Reacher time to kill Teale and Kliner. As Reacher helps Charlene and Roscoe escape, Picard staggers in. Finlay shoots Picard in the back six times. Reacher, Finlay, Charlene, and Roscoe join Hubble and the children outside. They watch the warehouses burn.

In the aftermath, Reacher and Roscoe separate; she wants to stay and rebuild Margrave, but he wants to resume life on the road. She drops him off at a bus station and gives him an envelope, which contains the picture of Joe that Molly Beth had brought with her to the airport. Roscoe’s phone number is on the back.

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By Lee Child