Life is full of coincidences, don’t you think? I’d heard of Lee Child – or rather seen his books in the library – and put them in the same sort of category as, oh I don’t know, Patricia Cornwell; as in, best-sellers whom I hadn’t read and felt no great compulsion to read. Then again there might be good reasons for reading best-sellers; such as, to find out what others see in them and maybe to harvest some storytelling techniques.
So it was an odd event that propelled me into reading one of Lee Child’s ‘Jack Reacher’ books. ‘Die Trying’. I’d been thinking about what books to bring to Wales with me and had not come up with anything. Most of our books are in storage and I didn’t have funds to buy a load more, so I was kinda stuck. And guess what? On the seat at the bus stop in Loughborough, sat a large, fat, hardback book. No-one was waiting. It had just been left there.
I looked inside. It appeared to be an old library book which had started life in Loughborough, been transferred to Hathern, then to Quorn and finally to Leicester Prison. I began to wonder about that book. Who left it there and why? Was it an escaped inmate who had left it as a signal to his mate that he had taken the bus? Highly improbable: the stuff of fiction. Still it could have belonged to a released prisoner who no longer wanted it. Or maybe they left it behind by mistake. Whatever the reason, I am not one to resist the promptings of fate (as Professor Trelawney once said) and so I popped it in my bag. Jack Reacher. Who and what he was, I was about to find out.
It’s a looooooooooong novel, that’s the first thing. 650 pages. Mind you, this is a large print edition so I guess you can reduce that by a third if it’s normal print. I quite enjoyed the first section as it was about an abduction and as I read a lot of crime fiction this was familiar territory. And yet as the novel unfolded it became clear that it was a sort of paramilitary story. Not my kind of thing at all; and yet, partly out of curiosity and partly because I hate to leave a book unfinished * I persevered.
******* SPOILER ALERT*************
‘Die Trying’ is basically about a group of ‘freedom fighters’ trying to establish a state; a sort of white, right-wing version of the ISIS caliphate. I would have found the story more compelling if there had been more psychological insight; however this was kept to a minimum as the focus was on strategy. Pages and pages were devoted to loving descriptions of guns and other hardware; how they operate, who uses them, how they are designed, what their weak points are and in particular how Reacher, an ex-military policeman, is able to overcome obstacles and win through using a combination of experience, logic, cunning and ruthlessness.
And yet, horrid as it is and full of grisly carnage, there’s something compelling in such a narrative. Quaker and peace-lover though I am, I feel the same pull when I watch, say, recruiting adverts for the Army. These always focus on overcoming your obstacles and achieving your goals; and though I know full well that the major obstacles in joining the Army are a) obeying orders and b) killing people, these adverts still exert a pull. I like to imagine myself crawling under nets and swimming ravines with a rifle clamped between my teeth, only my cunning between me and certain death…
But this is a very masculine novel. Apart from one strong female character (who is mostly absent from the main action) it’s a ‘boys-and-their-toys’ book. It’s also a film in waiting, since much of the action is described in a highly visual way with plenty of detail and very little in the way of interior narrative: this is hardly surprising since Child started out as a screenwriter.
And then, guess what? Just as I was coming to the end I turned on the TV to see a trailer for a film about – yes, Jack Reacher. Starring Tom Cruise. It looked awful.
Anyway, here’s the book:
‘Die Trying’? On the whole I prefer Die Kinder – except that turns out to be German for children…
*unless it’s by Alexander McCall Smith