Sunday, December 12, 2010

Lee Child/Jack Reacher: WORTH DYING FOR

Dave told me that during last month's New England Crime Bake (the Sisters in Crime/Mystery Writers of American fall conference in the Boston area) he heard people endlessly talking about how much they liked reading the newest Jack Reacher thriller from Lee Child, WORTH DYING FOR. "And women, too," Dave kept telling me, with great surprise.

He should know by now that plenty of women read and enjoy the action thrillers, although we may not talk about them as much as the guys do. And I had the book on my list of "I'll get to that one" without any worries -- knowing it would have plenty of reviews and attention all around.

Now I've indulged in the book for most of my in-between hours this weekend (in between other work that had deadlines, of course!) and here's the bottom line: This is a fast, compelling, blow-by-blow action thriller, with more fistfights (all except one of them clearly planned and won by Reacher) than most TV channels can pull together in 24 hours, and packed with suspense. But the real key to its popularity, I'm betting, is that it's generous and brave and, as someone else commented, a "modern-day Robin Hood epic." Supremely satisfying in terms of who gets what ...

But let's get back to something like the beginning. When we last saw Jack Reacher, at the end of 61 Hours, a massive underground explosion gripped him outside a miserable prison town up north -- and it wasn't clear whether he'd survived the final scene. Well, clearly, he did. Although the "how" isn't revealed until a good ways into this new book, Jack is alive and staggering, in a lot of pain, along a hitchhiker's route toward a woman in Virginia. He only knows her voice -- and her ability to match his needs for information, with clues to her own courage and stamina through how she helped him, long distance. And with no other particular goal, as a displace ex-military copy, his curiosity about her has determined his forward motion.

That's all you'll hear about her in WORTH DYING FOR, because there's not going to be any further movement out of Nebraska until Reacher figures out why an entire town of otherwise strong and healthy adults have knuckled under and become 25-year victims of the Duncan family, a group of four men whose entire purpose seems to be the humiliation of their neighbors. Armed with a ten-man team of football players to exert their brutal commands, the Duncans have it all their way.

Only Jack -- and the reader, through carefully timed windows onto a shipping route through Canada -- realizes that the Duncan regime has a purpose beyond local. Frankly, everyone else in town has given up fighting and wondering. They are simply surviving. Their best and perhaps only tool for that has become a phone chain, but it turns out the Duncans even know about that.

The marvel of this thriller is that underneath the battering and shooting and wham-bam of Reacher working his way through the football-player enforcers, a handful of criminal outsiders shipped to the scene for extra power, and the Duncans themselves, there's a haunting transformation taking place: One moment of resistance at a time, Reacher is teaching the farming town that freedom is indeed worth dying for. But it will be even better if that freedom can be earned back -- and the status of victims properly left behind -- without dying after all. By example, by loyalty returned, and by short clear responses, Reacher builds a ladder and lets the best people around him find their way up the rungs.

That's why this is a Robin Hood story.

And tell me, did you ever get tired of seeing Robin Hood and his Merry Men take back the turf from the Sheriff of Nottingham?

Oh, that voice in Virginia? That's still Reacher's motive for getting out of Nebraska. But first, he does the work set in front of him. Sure, there's a cost. Some things get broken, including part of Jack Reacher. But it's worth it. And worth reading, too.

PS -- This is number 15 in the Jack Reacher series. Although Lee Child says they can be read independently, for maximum pleasure you really need to consume 61 HOURS before this one.

1 comment:

Beth Kanell said...

Here's an intriguing commentary on why so many women read the Jack Reacher thrillers ...