Thursday, April 25, 2019

Die Trying

Die Trying
by Lee Child
Recommended Ages: 15+

The security cam footage will show, in one-every-10-second stills, a tall, muscular guy grabbing FBI Agent Holly Johnson as she hobbles out of her dry cleaner's with a crutch supporting her bum knee and a week's worth of laundry slung over her shoulder.

The tall guy, identified later as a recently discharged major in the Military Police with a spotless 13-year record in the U.S. Army, is obviously the ringleader of the group of thugs that kidnaps Holly and whisks her out of Chicago, leaving only a burned-out car, stolen, with its owner burned along with it in the trunk, as a clue. That and, a few days later, a dead bad guy left in a ditch several states away.
No demands have been made. For the team of Feds desperately seeking clues to Holly's fate, the list of unanswered questions is blowing up. For example, what could this G.I. Joe type – Jack Reacher is his name – possibly want? Why would a guy whose longtime commanding officer swears he would not do such a thing, do such a thing?

It's all very mysterious. I mean, it's not like they're supposed to believe that Jack Reacher just randomly happened to cross paths with Holly Johnson at the very moment she was kidnapped – that he was brought along for the ride by a bunch of not-too-bright crooks out of sheer, spur-of-the-moment desperation – and that no one could have chosen a better good guy to have Holly's back when she's surrounded by bad guys. Right?

And then it turns out that Holly is very important to someone very important. And then it turns out that Holly is very, very important to someone very, very important. And then it turns out that someone on the off-the-books, multi-agency mission to save Holly is working on the other side. And then it turns out that ... just forget about it. The surprises keep coming, hard and fast. And Jack Reacher keeps coming at their captors, even harder and faster, with a lethal efficiency that would absolutely make you cringe if you didn't think they deserved it, and that will possibly make you cringe anyway.

As I continue to learn, Lee Child writes his Reacher novels with a brutal directness that has a certain appeal. It's wish-fulfillment fantasy that works, apparently, because it's the kind of writing that fulfills its author's wishes – and he's not all that different from many of us. It's fiction that tantalizes you with the danger threatening admirable people, then rewards you with the demise of despicable people. It's fiction revolving around a hero whose inner life is not particularly logjammed with emotional conflicts.

He's a man of simple needs, wandering his country (where he has spent little time until his discharge a few months ago) with little more than the clothing on his back, staying nowhere more than a few days, troubled by few pangs of conscience (even after ending a man with his bare hands), preoccupied by a few simple desires (like the touch of a beautiful woman), and willing to, as the title suggests, "die trying" to save her, even if he can't have her.

Also, he's a man who can look at a gun and tell you everything about it in a few crisp sentences. I'm not exactly a gun nut; I can just about tell the difference between a rifle and a shotgun, if the lighting is good. But I found the edifying currents in Reacher's stream of consciousness quite enjoyable, and the highlight of the book for me – a passage that I used, successfully, to secure my dad's interest in the series – is a shooting contest between Reacher and the boss bad guy, whose agenda is so over-the-top villainous that I'm too embarrassed to describe it. Let's just say that, predictably, he dies trying something, to the great enjoyment of many, including me.

For some reason, when I read Persuader, I was persuaded that it was the first novel in the Jack Reacher series. So, when I asked the person at the library circulation desk to put the second book on request for me, I got this – which is correct. I didn't know then, nor did I know while reading this book – in fact, I only found out just now, while doing my own little bit of online research for this review – that while this really is the second book, I haven't read the first book, which is Killing Floor, and that Persuader is all the way down the list at No. 7. But as the 24th book in the series is coming out later this year, I guess I have plenty of time to catch up.

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