THE INFORMANT – Thomas Perry (Reviewed by Gloria Feit)

As in his earlier novels [and I’m thinking particularly of the
wonderful Jane Whitefield series], the devil is in the details, and
this author excels in conveying the meticulously planned and executed
steps taken by his protagonist, so that credibility is never an issue.
In this standalone – actually, a follow-up to Mr. Perry’s very first
novel, The Butcher’s Boy [for which he won an Edgar award] – that
eponymous character returns, twenty years older.  Although he goes by
any number of other names, that soubriquet is the name by which he is
known, both to the authorities and to the mafia members who variously
employed him, betrayed him, and then became his victims.  The
Butcher’s Boy kills without compunction.  It is, after all, what he
does best, taught since childhood, simply as a job, or a way to stay
alive, or to seek revenge for the aforementioned betrayal.  Rarely is
it personal.  Although somewhat more so of late.

Well-trained from the age of 10 by an actual butcher, whose “side job”
is in “the killing trade,” beyond the necessary skills he is also
taught “Everybody dies.  It’s just a question of timing, and whether
the one who gets paid for it is you or a bunch of doctors.  It might
as well be you.”

While working as a hit man, his philosophy was simple:  He had
“resisted the camaraderie that some of the capos who had hired him
tried to foster.  He had kept his distance, done his job, collected
his pay, and left town before buyer’s remorse set in.  He made it
clear that he was a free agent and that he was nobody’s friend.”  He
has been out of the US for over twenty years, now over 50 years old,
and afraid he had gone soft.  But his skills are not diminished.  He
leaves no witnesses.  The ones who aren’t dead never notice him
entering or leaving a crime scene:  “He was a master at being the one
the eye passed over in a crowd.”  And the authorities – –  with one
notable exception – –  haven’t a clue.  That exception is Elizabeth
Waring, of the Organized Crime & Racketeering Division of the
Department of Justice.  She connects the dots and has no doubt that he
has come out of retirement and is the one now murdering Mafiosi at an
alarming rate, and sees in him, potentially, “the most promising
informant in forty years.”  Of course, to fulfill that possibility she
must get him to agree and, even more difficult, keep him alive, as “he
wasn’t worth anything dead.”  They embark on an ambivalent, and
somewhat fluid, relationship, equal parts grudging respect and fear of
the danger the other represents, somehow both earning sympathy.  The
author’s trademark suspense as the end of the novel draws near had
this reader literally holding her breath.  I loved this book, and it
is highly recommended.

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