Monday, June 21, 2021

Worth Dying For

Worth Dying For
by Lee Child
Recommended Ages: 15+

You know how it goes, when you're Jack Reacher, a drifter and ex-military policeman who has never quite given up the habit of protecting the innocent and ruthlessly crushing the guilty. You're sitting at a bar in a motel halfway between the middle of nowhere and Interstate 80, when the phone rings. It's a woman whose nose won't stop bleeding, and the alcoholic town doctor tells the bartender to say he isn't there. Naturally, you offer to give the drunk doc a ride to the woman's house, and you don't take no for an answer. And then you realize she's been knocked around by her husband, so you drop in on the fellow in the middle of a night out with his friends and give him a taste of his own medicine. It's what you do. But what happens next puts your travel plans on hold.

It's the old, old Jack Reacher story: Something is up in a Nebraska community so small that it doesn't even have a name. One family has terrorized everyone else into silence and submission. The silence partly has to do with what their shipping business actually ships, when it isn't hauling harvested crops for the farm folks who stay in line. And partly, it has to do with the unsolved disappearance of an 8-year-old girl, 25 years ago. The Duncans have an ironclad alibi for it, and no body was ever found, but something about it stinks to Reacher. And as he starts to look around, pairs of goons representing different ethnic gangs start coming to town, each pair vying to control an illicit trade of some kind, and all of them instructed to stop Reacher from looking into it. Why, there's even a sniper waiting to blow Reacher's head off, if he gets too close to the thing itself.

It's all very mysterious. But Reacher, as always, cuts through the enigma and the intrigue with brutal directness, through a combination of willingness to risk getting badly hurt and a talent toward making sure the other guy gets hurt worse. He gradually pulls behind him a core group of scared townsfolk (or townshipsfolk, really) and inspires them to take a hand in their own liberation. And he finally gets to the bottom of a nauseating secret that has been guarded for decades by an unwilling conspiracy of willful blindness. Where subtle thinkers and by-the-numbers investigators failed, brute force cracks the puzzle. And if you're Jack Reacher, you're the embodiment of brute force.

This is the 15th Jack Reacher novel. The 26th book of the series, titled Better Off Dead and co-authored with Andrew Child (a.k.a. Andrew Grant), is scheduled for release in October 2021. This review is based on an audiobook read by Dick Hill. I don't know what I missed between the nearest preceding book that I've read and this, though uncharacteristically, it seems to have left Reacher with lingering injuries. Nevertheless, these hurts only slightly slow him down as he takes out the bad guys with a straightforwardness that inspires awe. Other than that, I've detected very few signs in this series of the kind of continuity that makes what order you read the books in matter much. I'm sure it's been said many times: sometimes you weary of soul-searching, spiritually broken novel characters whose struggles meet with mixed success at best. When ambiguity and human frailty get you down, a blunt object that gets the job done every time may be just the medicine you need. And lo, his name is Reacher.

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