Title: Worth Dying For
Publisher: Bantam Press
Hardback: 410 pages
Publication Date: 30/09/2010
It’s a rare thing indeed for a literary character to be as famous, if not more so, than his creator. But that’s exactly the elevated position in which the man-mountainous Jack Reacher now finds himself. It’s he who’s the focus of all of the quotations on the back cover of Worth Dying For, and in the prelims for the paperback edition of 61 Hours there was both a page dedicated to praising Jack Reacher as a character and even one for his own CV [although, being slightly pedantic, it’s more of a bio than a CV!]. Similar to Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name in Sergio Leone’s Dollars Trilogy, Reacher is characterised by his quiet gruffness, constant outsider status, strong but unorthodox sense of justice and capacity for extraordinary levels of violence. And much like Batman, Reacher’s appeal shows that in a time when the world seems an uncertain and dangerous place, audiences want, need and gravitate towards the tough, vigilante brand of justice that both exemplify.
Picking up from 61 Hours’s explosive [quite literally] cliffhanger, the question of whether Reacher died or lived at the end of the previous book is answered pretty clearly by the existence of Lee Child’s fifteenth Reacher novel, Worth Dying For. Battered and bruised, Reacher blows like tumbleweed into a small Nebraskan town, intending only to bed down for the night before moving on. But when he encounters Eleanor Duncan, the bloodied victim of an abusive husband, Reacher responds in the only way he knows how – with savage violence. But his attack on Seth Duncan brings him to the attention of the rest of the Duncan clan, who have ruled the town with an iron fist for decades. Reacher should just leave town and never look back, but it’s not in his nature. And when Dorothy Coe tells him about her eight year-old daughter’s disappearance twenty-five years before [with the Duncans the main suspects] you know there’s no way Reacher will – or can – leave until he’s uncovered the truth.
It’s classic cowboy-film fare – the nomadic drifter arriving in a small, remote community and discovering the people cowed by the rule of a few, before deciding to mete out his own form of justice to assist the oppressed townspeople. By referencing this recognizable trope, Child invokes the reader’s memories of watching these types of film, subtly reworking and reimagining the world-view espoused in these films – in which people are split into polar opposites of good and evil – into a contemporary US setting. In Worth Dying For, the Duncans and all like them, use their size and power to oppress and bully those around them. The townspeople’s inability to stand-up for themselves means that a figure like Reacher is essential – someone who is willing to use his size and power to protect others.
But I would also argue that Reacher, especially in this novel, is a representation of the dark part of the reader’s psyche, where they wish – however fleetingly – that the villains and criminals could be punished with the same violence that they are willing to inflict on others. This makes reading Worth Dying For an almost cathartic process, as you watch Reacher setting the world [even if only in the microcosmic form of one small community] to rights. As with all Child’s novels, the prose is deceptively simple, slowly reeling you in until that moment when you look up from the book and are astonished by how much you have managed to read in one sitting. An absolutely brilliant book.