(Jump over to read a review of Runner)
(Jump down to read a review of Nightlife)
(Reviewed by Eleanor Bukowsky DEC 3, 2007)
Thomas Perry's Silence starts with a bang when Wendy Harper, co-owner of a trendy Los Angeles restaurant, leaves work well after midnight. Upon arriving home, she is attacked by a man with a baseball bat who nearly beats her to death. Wendy knows who is behind the attack, and she decides that it would be prudent to leave the past behind and start fresh somewhere else under an assumed name. She hires forty-year-old private investigator Jack Till, a former cop with twenty years on the force, to help her establish a new identity. For six years, there is silence. Suddenly, everything changes when Eric Fuller, Wendy's former partner and boyfriend, is falsely accused of murdering Wendy to collect on her life insurance policy. Till decides that, in good conscience, he must find Wendy and convince her to come forward to save Eric from prosecution. However, since the person who tried to kill Wendy is still at large, she might be reluctant to once again make herself a target.
Silence is an entertaining psychological thriller with a lively cast of characters, a serpentine plot, and a particularly cold-blooded husband and wife hit team. Sylvie and Paul Turner, who have been married for fifteen years, are sociopaths who kill for money and thrills; their efficiency and meticulous attention to detail have earned them a devoted clientele. However, they are paranoid and tend to find fault with one another; their marriage is, in some ways, more hellish than heavenly. A wealthy and powerful individual has hired the Turners to lure Wendy out of hiding and finish her off. If Jack convinces Wendy to reveal herself, she may very well be the Turners' next victim.
Jack Till has been lonely for a long time. His wife left him after she gave birth to a little girl, Holly, who has Down syndrome. Jack is devoted to his daughter; she has developed into a self-sufficient, happy, and productive young woman. However, he has never remarried and although he was attracted to Wendy when she first appealed to him for help, he never acted on his feelings. He uses his savvy as an investigator to locate Wendy and they reconnect emotionally, but Till has his hands full staying one step ahead of their clever, ruthless, and determined pursuers.
Perry steadily ratchets up the suspense as Till and Wendy attempt to evade the relentless Turners. Till is uneasy because he suspects that there is a great deal more to Wendy's story than she is willing to reveal. Who exactly wants her dead and why? Jack suspects that she is hiding vital information from him. Meanwhile, Sylvie and Paul become irritable when killing Wendy proves to be more difficult than they anticipated.
Thomas Perry explores the unfortunate choices that people make and their attempts to redeem themselves before it is too late. He provides the back stories of both the heroes and their adversaries and skillfully fleshes out their personalities and motives. Everything comes to a head in a wild and exciting conclusion that is satisfying, unpredictable, and laced with delicious irony. Silence is a sardonically witty and compulsively readable thriller.
- Amazon readers rating: from 39 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from Nightlife(back to top)
(Reviewed by Pat Neuman MAY 1, 2006)
“… You’re the cop… but it seems to me that all these theories are based on the idea that women don’t kill people… It seems to me that your colleagues aren’t willing to see anything that isn’t statistically likely…”
In recent years, murder mysteries often have a formula that revolves around a standard profile for a murderer – especially for a serial killer. None of these profiles fit a woman, but in Thomas Perry’s latest novel, a lot of these formulaic rules are broken. In the manner made famous in his Jane Whitefield series, this story is largely about two women who each exhibit extreme cunning and ingenuity. Instead of a “who-done-it,” this novel is an intriguing unwinding of a chess-like strategy of “how-did-they-do that?”
Police in several cities become convinced that a string of murders are related to one woman who may herself be a victim of the murderer. Detective Catherine Hobbes, the only woman involved in the investigation of the first shooting death in Portland, concludes that the blond hair at the crime scene is from the woman who committed the murder, NOT a missing victim or potential witness.
Meanwhile in Los Angeles, the cousin of the first man murdered hires a private investigator, Joe Pitt. Because he is a well-known former cop, he manages to be allowed a parallel investigation with the Portland Police. While Detective Hobbes doesn’t welcome his assistance or his personal interest in her, she works with him until the case seemingly comes to a dead end.
Perry does his usual - not unsympathetic - job of sketching out the personality and thought processes of all the characters, including the villains. As both Catherine and Charlene are shocked to learn that their adversary is female, they instinctively understand each other.
Charlene Buckner was raised by an otherwise neglectful mother who exploited her for her entire childhood by entering her in beauty contests. So she learned from an early age to endlessly re-invent herself. That trait (and both her cunning and inventive, seat-of-the pants methods) are a large part of what is fascinating and keeps this story moving in such varied and interesting ways. It’s a war of wits between two women; the detective (who is equally resourceful and has also re-invented herself); and an attractive young woman who eludes capture.
Using a string of different names, she moves around the country establishing a series of new identities and killing anyone who gets in her way. With a seemingly astonishing ease, she becomes Rachel Sturbridge in San Francisco. Capitalizing on her youth, pretty face and body, she coolly sets up an extremely wealthy older man to possibly invest in her phony magazine business, or even to become her future husband. Unfortunately, he tries unsuccessfully to have her background investigated, and he tells her so. She is immediately shrewd enough to realize that she’ll have to sever every association with him, let him go, and disappear again to start over.
Moving on, this time using a spare identity that she had set up to be her new “roommate,” she ends up in Los Angeles. Here she begins again only to have a coincidence thwart her plans and cause her to commit another murder. Frustrated and beginning to spin out of control, she goes out for a little “nightlife” and picks up a man in a bar at his hotel in Hollywood. After going to bed with him, she perversely and impulsively shoves him off the balcony to his death because he revealed to her that he had a commitment to another woman.
The next morning, a neighbor across the hall from her apartment invites her in to ask about her picture (taken by a security camera at the hotel) on the front page of the newspaper. Reacting immediately, she kills her and flees (just in time) yet again.
In a flashback to her early life of hardship, abandonment and conniving, Perry sketches how Charlene became the very young mistress of wealthy attorney. This allowed her to acquire all of the skills that she learned about re-making herself and her appearance to fit in with the rich. She learned to become ever better at manipulating men. This worked for nine years until she found herself alone in the world again, due to her patron’s heart attack and death. Losing the financial security of the way life that had kept her so comfortable led to her first murder.
The police are getting very close to finding her when she escapes and relocates to Flagstaff, Arizona. There, the local police spot her and Detective Hobbes and Joe Pitt rush to the scene. They have once again very nearly tracked her down when she is rescued and hidden by a 16-year-old boy whose parents are out of town. He - of course - immediately falls in love and wants to help her. Capitalizing on her ability to mesmerize men, she convinces him that Detective Hobbes is unreasonably hounding her and must be eliminated so that they can begin a new life together. Helpless to resist her, he ends up being killed while trying to snipe Detective Hobbes. From there she just disappears and as the case grows cold, Detective Hobbes and Joe Pitt each are out of options and go home to await any further developments.
There are several other interesting characters and story-lines that are deftly woven in between Charlene and Catherine’s. Although Charlene has escaped again, set up another new identity, and seems to be safe; she carefully reviews everything and is shocked and infuriated to learn how close she came to being caught by Catherine Hobbes. This causes her to seethe with a building resentment at what she sees an unwarranted interest in her and to become fixated on Catherine. She ultimately decides that the only way she will feel safe is if she goes back to Portland to eliminate her nemisis. In a series of ingenious and audacious turn-arounds the hunter becomes the prey in a very dramatic climax.
While this novel is as taut, clever, and suspenseful as all of the others by Thomas Perry, missing is the dark humor of some of his other stand-alone novels. But the tension and suspense are high enough that you will want to race through to the conclusion of this original and inventive story.
- Amazon readers rating: from 40 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from Nightlife at Random House
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- The Butcher's Boy (1982)
- Metzger's Dog (1983)
- Big Fish (1985)
- Island (1988)
- Sleeping Dogs (1992)
- Death Benefits (2001)
- Pursuit (2001)
- Dead Aim (2002)
- Nightlife (March 2006)
- Silence (June 2007)
- Fidelity (May 2008)
- Strip (May 2010)
- The Informant (May 2011) *
*The Butcher's Boy returns
Jane Whitefield series:
- Vanishing Act (1995)
- Dance for the Dead (1996)
- Shadow Woman (1997)
- The Face-Changers (1998)
- Blood Money (1999)
- Runner (January 2009)
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- Official website for Thomas Perry
- Identity Theory interview with Thomas Perry
- January Magazine review of Death Benefits
- BookReporter.com review of Dead Aim
- MostlyFiction.com review of Runner
- MostlyFiction.com review of The Informant
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About the Author:
Thomas Perry was born in Tonawanda, New York in 1947. He received a B.A. from Cornell University in 1969 and a Ph.D. in English from the University of Rochester in 1974. He has worked as a park maintenance man, factory laborer, commercial fisherman, university administrator and teacher, and a writer and producer of prime time network television shows.
He lives in Southern California with his wife and two daughters.