Worth Dying For - or as I like to think of it: Mayhem and Bloodletting in Nebraska - is the 15th thriller featuring eternal wanderer on the face of the earth, Jack Reacher. Reacher is a 6'5" ex-army, ex-military police, avenger of the innocent. A dream come true for damsels in distress or any other unfortunates who happen to be in trouble as Reacher drifts into town, usually dropped off by a bus or a hitched ride. The beauty of Lee Child's larger-than-life creation is that in each book there's a different locale, a different story with a different cast of characters - it's a series, but Reacher (except for a couple of instances) is the only repeat.
I was never a big thriller fan until I met Reacher, that is, until I began reading about Reacher. (Yes, I am one of the smitten millions.) So finding Lee Child's work has also led me to other wonderful thriller writers I might never have read otherwise.
2010 was a unique year for Lee Child since he published two Reacher books - the terrific 61 Hours near the beginning of the year, and now the superb (how does the man do it?) Worth Dying For which, though the story takes place in the general area (give or take hundreds of miles of farmland) is NOT a sequel. I was a bit disconcerted at first by this, since I really did expect a sequel. But I soon got over it. I should have known Lee would do something unconventional.
It is winter. Reacher, still in the process of healing from the after-effects of his last adventure, is hitching east on his way to Virginia. He is dropped off in the middle of nowhere, Nebraska and almost immediately finds himself caught up in the lives of the few people, mostly farmers, still trying to make a living in this bleak and remote, rural section of the country. It's an area strictly controlled by a sinister family named Duncan - owners of the only trucking company - who rule the county with an iron hand.
The Duncans are waiting impatiently for a delayed shipment of 'goods' (an additional and very lucrative source of income) coming down from Canada - a shipment already a few days late. In this venture, they must answer to a nasty guy in Las Vegas who in turn answers to an even nastier guy who in turn...well, you know how it goes - chain of command. The Duncans are therefore, uneasy to begin with - the delay in shipment could pose all sorts of problems for them. They don't like problems.
They are big, strutting fish in a small pond, used to getting their own way, meting out harsh punishment to anyone foolish enough to defy them. For this they have the paid help of ten University of Nebraska rejects from the NFL, quite big enough, beefy enough and dumb enough to do the work of enforcers, terrorizing the citizenry.
When Reacher makes his presence felt in the unquiet, un-subtle Reacher way, the Duncans turn the force on - Reacher must be dealt with to protect their hold over the county and the future of their deal working its way down from Canada, the first stop on its way to Vegas. But worrying at the heart of this remote community is a vile secret the Duncans have been hiding for 25 years. A secret so venal and so explosive that all hell breaks loose on the barren plains of Nebraska and Reacher must once again deal in death on a grand scale.
I love these books. There's just nothing like them for rapid page turning action and suspense. The violence, for whatever reason, doesn't seem to bother me at all. Can't say the same thing for other writers who include magnified violence in their stories, but in Lee Child's hands, the violence is used as a defined means of justifying an end usually long overdue. Reacher doesn't enjoy the violence, he doesn't relish it, he employs it when it's needed then moves on.
Reacher is such a knight in shining armor and, by the way, such a thinking, rational, pragmatic man that somehow, I go along with it all, adjusting to his nihilistic approach to justice. Lee Child has definitely fastened onto something by creating a larger-than-life main character that exemplifies all we'd like to be if ever faced with real trouble. (At least in our imaginations.) As for the fascination women readers seem to have with the Reacher books, I call it: the lure of competence. Women admire competence, in a man, especially. Jack Reacher delivers that and more.
Lee Child's way with words is hard, reasoned and to the point. Here's an excerpt from the early part of the book when Reacher has just dealt with two brutes who've come after him at the rickety motel where he's staying, violence which has been witnessed by a doctor's wife who's come to warn him to leave town immediately:
The Ford pick-up truck was still idling patiently. Its headlights were still on. The two guys lay slack and heaped in the gloom beyond the bright beams, steaming slightly, four cubic yards of bone and muscle, six hundred pounds of beef, horizontal, not vertical. They were going to be very hard to move. The doctor's wife said, "Now what the hell are we going to do?"
Reacher said, "About what?"
"I wish you hadn't done that."
"Because nothing good can possibly come of it."
"Why not? What the hell is going on here? Who are these people?"
"I told you. Football players."
"Not them," said Reacher. "The Duncans. The people who sent them."
"Did they see me?"
"Those two? I doubt it."
"That's good. I really can't get involved in this."
"Why not? What's going on here?"
"This isn't your business."
"Tell that to them."
"You seemed so angry."
"Me?" Reacher said. "I wasn't angry. I was barely interested. If I had been angry, we'd be cleaning up with a fire hose. As it is we're going to need a fork-lift truck."
Read more about Lee Child and all the Reacher books at Lee Child's website. Join the great Forum. I've been a member since forever.
Check out a great interview with Lee at CBS Sunday Morning. There's also a link to the video.