Friday, October 18, 2013

Die Trying by Lee Child: A review

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Die Trying is the second in Lee Child's blood-spattered thriller series featuring his superman Jack Reacher. In this entry in the series a lot of the bloodletting is done by the bad guys rather than by Reacher. And they are very bad guys indeed.

Reacher becomes involved in this adventure while innocently walking down a street in Chicago. He encounters a young woman coming out of a dry cleaner's shop with several outfits in one of her arms and an aluminum crutch in the other arm. She is struggling to manage the door, the crutch, and the clothes and drops the crutch. Reacher stops to help and as he returns her crutch to her, the two find themselves confronted by two armed men. By the curb is a car with a third man as driver. They are forced into the car by the men, the victims of a broad daylight kidnapping.

The two are then transferred into a paneled van and a long trip across country begins. Since the van is closed, they have no idea which way they are headed or why. Why have they been kidnapped?

It turns out that the young woman is an FBI agent with connections to some very high level people in the government. She was the target of the kidnapping. Jack Reacher was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The trip continues for days with the group stopping at night at abandoned farms. Reacher and Holly Johnson, the FBI agent, are handcuffed and locked in the barns at night. At one of the stops one night, one of the kidnappers decides to rape Holly. She fights back and Reacher manages to pull his chain out of the wall and attacks and kills the would-be rapist. He breaks out of the barn, hides the body in a ditch, and in the morning the trip continues after the other two kidnappers are unable to find their companion.

They are headed west and eventually they arrive at their destination, a desolate corner of Montana. This corner of Montana, it develops, is owned by the Montana Militia, an extremely violent, racist, secessionist, conspiracy theory-adhering group led by a cruel sociopath, that is intent on declaring independence from the United States and setting up their own state for white people only. These are the people in whose clutches Holly and Reacher find themselves. Their future does not look promising.

I read Die Trying while the United States was suffering through a government shutdown engineered by delusional right-wing bomb-throwers. It was stunning how statements by many of those modern-day bomb-throwers sounded as if they had come from the mouths of Child's fictional Militia members from the 1990s. They might have learned their lines from this book: There is a worldwide conspiracy to make the U.N. a world government and the president is part of that conspiracy. The black helicopters are coming to take people's guns and their liberties - of course, these people always equate guns with liberties. White people are being downtrodden and their rights abridged by the darker races. It is all a lot of utter nonsense, but there are elected representatives in this country who spout these lines with utter conviction and straight faces.

Child's portrayal of the militiamen actually seemed quite realistic to me and his writing about the FBI's structure and operations was interesting. His Jack Reacher continues to be blessed with the powers of a superhero. You feel that if he really wanted to he would be able to leap tall buildings - or mountains - in a single bound, but he meets his match here in Holly Johnson, who is every bit as capable of killing bare-handed or with weapons that she has fashioned out of the materials at hand as is Reacher. Together, even with Holly injured and using a crutch, they are a formidable team.

One can be assured that in these thrillers the bad guys are always going to be punished and there is a degree of guilty satisfaction in that. But the stories also require that a lot of innocent people are punished, too, often in quite cruel ways that are difficult to read about. That cruelty, of course, is what makes the punishment of the bad guys acceptable.

Another thing one can be sure of is that there will be non-stop action from the first page to the last. Reading these books is a bit of a roller coaster ride, sometimes heart-stopping, always entertaining.



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