::Literate Blather::
Monday, December 29, 2008
Book Review: "Runner" Leaves You Breathless

Thomas Perry Welcomes Back Jane Whitefield in New Thriller

I read “Runner” by Thomas Perry so fast – What happens next! What happens next! – that the pages started to smolder and smoke. I was forced to read the rest of it wearing fire retardant gloves and with a fire extinguisher within easy reach.

“Runner” hits bookstore shelves on January 14 and, once you’ve fireproofed your favorite reading chair, you should seriously consider adding it to your collection. “Runner” is a marvel, and already in the running for my pick for best suspense novel of 2009.

Thomas Perry has always
been an underrated scribe. He came out of the gates strong with his first novel “The Butcher’s Boy,” which won the 1983 Edgar Award for best first mystery novel.

But Perry really didn’t hit his stride until he created Jane Whitefield – a Native American woman who helps desperate people “disappear” – guiding them to new lives while helping them escape their pasts, usually filled with various nasty people with guns.

Jane is hard as dried leather – and smart. Her character – the detail oriented, obsessive perfectionist with little humor and a demeanor as sullen as funeral – centers the novel. She’s a fascinating case study as she plunges the reader into the underground world of forgeries and the act of “vanishing” without a trace.

Jane made her first appearance in “Vanishing Act” in 1995 and appeared in four more novels before Perry retired her in 2000. The series, however, has proven so popular, that Perry has dusted off Jane nine years later.

Lucky us. The result is “Runner.”

Jane is now married to a surgeon in up-state New York and living under the name Jane McKinnon. The action begins immediately as a pregnant teenager named Christine tries to find Jane at the local hospital – where Jane is attending a fundraiser she organized.

There are six professional criminals trailing Christine – and they bomb a wing of the hospital in order to flush Christine out of the building. Christine, however, is fortunate enough to find Jane first.

The rest of “Runner” is a harrowing race to save Christine and her baby from her former boyfriend, a corrupt real estate mogul who needs Christine and his child back to avoid being written out of the family businesses by his demanding father and mother.

“Runner” is relentless – but never allows itself to get away from the characters. Perry gives readers complex characters in Christine and boyfriend Richard Beale (and his complicated family dynamics with his mother and father). There are no stereotypes or casting call characters here, but dynamic human beings.

There are some questionable logic lapses in “Runner” with the hospital bombing front and center (would career criminals in a covert operation really do something that dramatic?). And the relationship between Richard and his criminal friends, led by the enigmatic Steve Demming, fails to hold up under too much scrutiny (and we never get any insight into Demming and his colleagues motivations).

However, “Runner” is just too expertly plotted and burns up the pages like a flamethrower to get too caught up in the trivial complaints. The book is just too good for that. Our recommendation is to just guard against third-degree burns and let Jane Whitefield guide you through “Runner.” You won’t be sorry.

Buy "Runner" at Amazon.com

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