“He had never taken aspirin and wasn’t about to start. He had been banged up in the hospital a couple of times, with IV morphine drips in his arms and he remembered that experience quite fondly. But outside of the ICU he was going to rely on time and willpower. No other option.” Got that? We’re back in the world of Jack Reacher, the Big Guy with the Moral Compass, and aspirin is for pantywaists.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Reacher, Lee Child’s prototypical American loner. Furthermore Worth Dying For compensates for the weakness of Child’s last book, 61 Hours. I was disappointed by that sketchy and underwritten tale, then confused to find another Lee Child for sale only 6 months later. Maybe 61 Hours is a barely-fleshed-out screenplay. Maybe it was a kind of stopgap, written to tide readers over while Child’s annual production got onto the Fall Best-Seller schedule (like a hop to get you marching in step with your neighbors). But from the very beginning, Worth Dying For demonstrated the artful pacing that may be the real secret to Child’s success. About a quarter of the way through the book he stops the action for the following paragraph:
“Our ship has come in. An old, old phrase, from old seafaring days, full of hope and wonder. An investor could spend all he had, building a ship, fitting it out, hiring a crew, or more than all he had, if he was borrowing. Then the ship would sail into a years-long void, unimaginable distances, unfathomable depths, incalculable dangers. There was no communication with it… No news at all.” Child goes on in this vein for a couple of hundred words before returning to winter in rural Nebraska where the story is set. It’s another one of those situations Reacher stumbles into, the small town where things seem faintly askew and no one will answer his questions, and then someone turns up bleeding. And Reacher, despite being more than usually dinged-up (from the grand finale of 61 Hours), swings into action.
However. Child overstepped two boundaries for me with this book. One was the violence. For the first time in 15 books, I actually had to skip pages. True, I’m very squeamish. Also true that when your hero is notable for his size, marksmanship, and fighting experience, these qualities need to be unleashed. It’s part of the deal with the reader. But this time it went too far for me. You’ll know what I’m talking about when you get there.
Also too far: when Child has one of the innocent bystanders in the novel take justice into his/her own hands. In truth, Reacher is a vigilante. But in Worth Dying For the crimes are so evil and the punishments so grotesque that I was disturbed. I would much prefer to think of Reacher as a near-caricature, the big guy with the muscles who sets things straight and doesn’t take pills.