Worth Dying For by Lee Child

The previous novel in the Jack Reacher series, 61 HOURS, ended with a purported cliffhanger: will Reacher survive an underground explosion? I think it is not giving away any spoilers to say that he does, and lives to fight another day in the shape of WORTH DYING FOR. Reacher is on his way to Virginia to meet the woman he knows only as a voice on the phone in 61 HOURS, who has taken over his old job commanding a military unit. His preferred mode of transport is hitch-hiking, and as the novel opens is dropped off at a remote Nebraska crossroads en route. As it's late, Reacher decides to stay overnight at the only place in the area, hence stumbling across what he assumes to be a case of wife-beating. Trouble inevitably ensues, and escalates to comfortably fill the whole novel.

WORTH DYING FOR has all the trademarks of a Reacher book. There is an isolated and very small community, cut off from the outside world and in the thrall of a family who own the local farms and businesses, using this fact to control the population with the help of muscle provided by a college football team. There is a mystery at the bottom of all this: who are the evil-seeming Duncan family, what is the source of their wealth given the state of the US farming industry, and what happened to the daughter of a local resident who disappeared 25 years ago? Reacher begins to investigate all these questions, driven by his innate sense of justice and his disgust at the bullying behaviour of the Duncans, not least to the female characters in this novel.

At the same time, we learn that the other end of the Duncans' mysterious business deals consists of some mobsters based in Las Vegas. Not just one set of mobsters but several, as there is a chain of command from the Italians to the Iranians to the Arabs to the Russians (or something like that). Each gang sends two men to Nebraska to find out why the latest consignment from the Duncans is late. Much of the novel consists of the rivalry between these totally unbelievable pairs of boilerplate ethnic stereotypes, and Reacher's gradual awareness of what is going on as he takes out several of them as well as some of the aforementioned football players. As is standard in a Reacher book, he's captured at one point, beaten up and put in a cellar, but the reader is pretty sure he won't be in there for long.

As usual, my verdict on this novel is that if you like Jack Reacher stories, you'll like this one. It contains all the ingredients that make this series such a success: tough hero adhering to his own moral code and standing up for the "true" American values that transcend officialdom; some exciting set-pieces; easy to read – the prose is not as simplistic as is found in some other bestselling novels but is pretty easygoing; a plot that provides a bit of mystery and suspense without taxing the brain too much (Reacher isn't that clever, although he's always slightly cleverer than the opposition); and plenty of wish-fulfillment concerning ethics and values that we'd all like for our society but which are unlikely ever to happen. Don't go looking for holes in the plot as there are very many of them indeed, and there is so much in this novel that is ludicrous that you really must do a deal with yourself at the outset to suspend all belief. This having been said, if you are after an undemanding, entertaining and exciting read to a particular formula, this is definitely a book for you.

Review first published at Euro Crime, October 2010.

This entry was posted in Books, Crime fiction, England, Eurocrime, Europe, North America, Series, Thriller, USA. Bookmark the permalink.

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