WORTH DYING FOR
Bantam Press Hbk, £18.99
Released: 30 September 2010
Reviewer: L J Hurst
How does he do it? Only
six months ago, Jack Reacher was in the northern snows likely to be
incinerated in the chimney-like staircase of an underground silo.
Somehow, Jack is on a road in the middle of Nebraska, the snows have
melted, though it is still cold, the wind still cutting, his body is
still hurting, and he seems to be walking once more into trouble.
A woman on her own, townsfolk in fear of violence, certain individuals in fear of terrible pain, a town controlled by a business organised more like a gang. Reacher has met them all before. Lee Child, like a literary Jack Reacher, overcomes them all, re-works them and makes something new once more.
Lee Child’s skill lies not in the originality of the crimes that Reacher discovers – remember that often Reacher does not know why he is meeting the opposition he does; these thrillers are not constructed like The Magnificent Seven where the threat and solution is obvious from the start. Child’s skill lies in his plotting, and – in Worth Dying For – his narration.
The basic premise of the novel seems simple, a gang of hoodlum hauliers are holding a small town to ransom. Reacher, like Yul Brynner’s men, could fight them off. However, Child lets we readers see events unknown to Reacher. Then his plotting skills come into their own. There is an immediate problem – the gangsters and their thugs. There is a past problem – how has the gang managed to hold on to its power? There is a distantly past problem, a long-missing person. And there is a future problem – what are the hauliers waiting for and how do they intend to protect it?
The first few chapters seem simple. In fact, as early reviewers have remarked, Reacher’s reactions are almost grotesquely violent. As he receives information he starts to moderate his response, though at one point he has to treat himself nearly as violently as those he has attacked. Discovering that the townsfolk are not as cowardly as they seem, on the other hand he discovers, as he has done before, his opponents are, in almost every way, worse than he has assumed. Even though we readers seem to have been following the other events – the onward journey of the haulier’s expected payload – the delivery is another narrative blow.
The book begins as Reacher is likely to walk into a sniper’s sights. It ends with a brief conclusion in which some motives and actions are explained. Perhaps Reacher is not in the town by chance, perhaps others are not the cowards they seem. Again Lee Child has made what initially seem random and irregular events into the muscular skeleton of a tautly plotted thriller. How does he do it?
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