Die Trying

Reviewed: August 17, 2009
By: Lee Child
Publisher: Jove Books
The Penguin Group, $10.99

When the President of the United States faces the fact that his god-daughter has been abducted by the crazed leader of a paramilitary group who wants to set up his own nation in the wilds of Montana, he also has to face that fact that there are several million Americans who hold similar views and that mishandling this situation will simply encourage them.

That’s the message he has to pass on to his good friend, General Johnson, who just happens to be the head of the Joint Chiefs and Holly’s father.

They both understand that the USA doesn’t need another Waco situation. What they don’t understand is just how crazy Beau Borken really is, just what the extent of his plan is, and what it’s gong to take to shut him down.

Jack Reacher is some time coming to a full apprecation of all these details. The ex-military policeman was continuing his very low budget “get acquantainted with America” tour when a woman on crutches stepped out of a dry cleaning establishment and stumbled under the weight of too many clothes. Reacher took her clothes hangers in one hand and her arm in the other to keep her from fallings, so he was totally unprepared to do anything when the three men with guns suddenly surrounded them and took them both prisoner.

If not for the fact that the woman was on crutches and therefor could not move very fast, Jack was certain he could have taken their assailants, but she was a handicap he couldn’t ignore.

Holly Johnson is an FBI agent working on a sensitive case, but her first assumption is not that her abduction is connected with that. Holly’s spent all of her life being the general’s daughter, and many of the things that have happened to her, many of the ways thay people have reacted to her, have been because of that. The higher connection to the President doesn’t seem to occur to her.

The first third of the book follows two plot lines. In the first we are with Holly and Reacher and their captors as they make their way rom Chicago to Montana in a van. In the second we are with the agents at Holly’s bureau in Chicago as they realize that something is wrong with her and try to reconstruct what must have happened, retracing her steps on that day until the security camera at the dry cleaners finally shows them a silent movie of the abduction. The video also gives them a completely erroneous picture of Reacher’s involvment in the snatching, so we know that when Jack first meets the law there will be a problem.

There are several points along the way where it almost looks like this story will take a different direction, but bad luck and trouble plagues the FBI investigation and so the van reaches its destination unhindered. Well, not quite. One of the villains tries to sample the merchandise en route and meets wth an untimely end. Reacher manages to make it look as if he’s deserted his chums.

At the abandoned mining town which is the headquarters of the Montana Militia Holly is a locked in a specially perpared cell. We watched the building of this cell earlier in the book and saw what happened to the men who built it, so we have a pretty good idea of just how psychotic the leader of the Militia is.

Once Borken finds out just who Reacher is, he decides to use him as part of his plan to seek revenge on America. How he find out? Well, it soon becomes obvious that one of Holly’s fellow agents back in Chicago is on Borken’s payroll, but we don’t know who for a long time, and the author dangles lots of red herrings along that trail.

To Child’s credit, Holly is as resourceful and capable as Reacher in her own way, and only the fact of her busted knee keeps her from being an extremely formidible opponent. As it is, she escapes once, kills several people and saves Jack’s life. This is no damsel in distress.

As for Jack. he has to deal with foiling an increasingly complex plot hatched by a very clever and charismatic lunatic. He also has to overcome his own single greatest fear and deal with the fact that the good guys think he’s a bad guy until fairly late in the story.

This was the second in the adventures of Jack Reacher. While there is a progression in the life of this loner hero, the books are written in such a way that you can probably jump in anywhere.