The Boyfriend, by Thomas Perry ****

TheboyfriendThree and a half stars, rounded up.

I’ve been a fan of Thomas Perry’s for decades. In the past, he has written such adrenaline-coursing thrillers that I’ve actually had to put his novel down in order to calm down and breathe normally for a moment. And while The Boyfriend is an interesting story, it doesn’t measure up to the body of work I associate with this writer.

Here is the premise: we have two protagonists, a good guy and a bad guy. Our bad guy is a hit man and a serial killer. At first I really liked the author’s work here. It’s a twist I hadn’t seen before. The bad guy is hired by clients from Latin America who he hypothesizes are perhaps having him take out individuals who are also from Latin America, but who fly north to assist Washington D.C. in its attempt to take those cartels apart. He doesn’t really know, though. He was recruited by an American who also worked for them, and who became his partner. The partner was killed by one of the targets, and now our hit man, who takes a variety of names throughout the book, is a one-man killing squad. He makes a lot of money, but needs to stay below the radar and be impossible to track. The women he kills are escorts that he persuades to trust him. He behaves like the opposite of a typical john, nonthreatening, considerate, and gets them to invite him to live with them. Voila, free lodgings where the Feds won’t be looking for him. And each time he leaves, he kills his hostess in order to avoid leaving a witness behind, even though they have no idea he is a killer. The dead men he has assassinated cause a lot more flash and ruckus, so the death of a high-priced hooker doesn’t get much air time on the news or much attention from police.

I had a little trouble buying this scenario, but the author also draws out a story from the killer’s youth that shows that in shopping for an escort wherever he is staying, the man subconsciously looks for the same woman over and over again. They look alike. Again and again, he finds and kills this woman. Taken from that sort of perspective, I could buy the premise. But this part of the premise falls apart halfway through the novel with a one-sentence explanation that left me scratching my head. What the hell?

Our second protagonist, of course, is the guy who is tracking the killer. He Needs to Find Him Before He Can Kill Again. Jack Till is our good guy. Till is a private detective working for the parents of one of the escorts. They loved their daughter; they have money; they want their daughter’s killer found and brought to justice.

Till uses the internet to track where he believes the killer will go next. The clues he uses at first are believable, and the story line, if not gripping, is interesting. But I had real problems buying into the amount of wealth he was able to expend in order to not only travel all over hell and back, but in buying breathtakingly expensive gadgets to assist him:

“He drove into Boston and bought several items: a night vision scope, a sixty-power spotting scope, and a plug-in microphone that he could listen to by telephone.”

We don’t have a sense that Catherine Hamilton’s parents are members of that bottomless, one-percent, ruling rich. They give him 100k and tell him to let them know when he needs more, but for all we know, they could be looting their retirement accounts or double-mortgaging their home. It’s believable that grieving parents would do these things. But multiple plane tickets, hotels, and expenses like the ones in the quote above (not his only stop, not his only purchases) gave me pause.

In addition, I wondered at the blithe assumption that a store, even in a major metropolis such as Boston, would have these items sitting under glass ready to be sold. Wouldn’t some of these items have to be special-ordered? That’s expensive, very specialized stock. But I will admit I don’t know a lot about firearms or spying devices; it just felt like a stretch to me.

If you are concerned about spoilers, by the way, I have confined myself to the first twenty percent of the story. Most of it is not in this review.

But I am thinking back now to the series that hooked me and a lot of other readers, when Perry was a relatively new writer. This man wrote the Jane Whitefield novels, stories about a modern-day Seneca Indian woman who uses the skills of her culture to cover the trail of endangered individuals. The series was absolutely riveting, but the nature of her work also kept it from being a more or less permanent series. Each time she did her good deed, she was that much closer to being discovered and murdered. Perry had to close that series off and write some other things, and he came up with a number of other really strong novels, some of them on par with that beloved series. And because of his sterling track record as one of the best thriller writers out there, I came to this novel with higher-than-usual expectations.

The Boyfriend holds together really well in places, and is a little clunky in others. I was lucky enough to read a free copy, not as an ARC, but as a library book brought home for me by a thoughtful family member. As such, I enjoyed it, even though I was a trifle disappointed. But at the same time, I was glad I had been able to knock it off my Christmas wish list, because there are many things I would rather unwrap than this book.

My advice to you, reader, is similar. If you find this book lying on a table of 99 cent paperbacks, or if you can read it free from the library or borrow it from someone, give it a try. See what you think. If you are new to Perry’s work, you can read it free of the high expectations I brought with me when I read it.

But don’t toss the full jacket price on the counter unless you have a budget as generous as Jack Till’s.

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