Friday, January 02, 2009

RUNNER by Thomas Perry

Jane Whitefield is in retirement. She married a surgeon, changed her name, and has worked diligently to keep her past behind her. A past that was dangerous yet fulfilling. She helped people disappear. Every one of them was in trouble and while not all of them were necessarily good people none of them deserved to die. Her new name is Jane McKinnon and the world she has built is threatened when a young pregnant girl finds her at a hospital fundraiser and asks for help. Jane can’t turn the girl down. It might be that she is pregnant, but it’s probably because the dangerous group pursuing her set a bomb in the kitchen of the hospital as a diversion to get the girl out.

Jane faces the group of six—two women and four men—who are chasing the girl in the parking lot of the hospital. She puts one down with a fierce attack and then beats it out of there in her Volvo sedan. She doesn’t have time to think about what she is doing. She just does it. The old ways kick in and Jane’s only concern is to get the girl to safety. That means a new identity, a new city, and a new life. Unfortunately for both Jane and her client nothing goes quite as planned and this job gets very personal for Jane Whitefield.

Runner is the first Thomas Perry novel I have read, but it won’t be the last. It is a thriller that amps the tension with action, suspense and raw violence. There are no unnecessary sub-plots and the characterization is balanced very near perfection between backstory and forward momentum. There is just enough of the former and plenty of the later. Jane Whitefield is an extremely competent and likable protagonist and the girl—Christine Monahan—is young enough and naïve enough to make her mistakes forgivable. The prose is swift and stylish:

“Jane Whitefield fought the darkness. She struggled to hold in her mind the possibility of waking, and then to make her way toward it. She felt pain where her body was in contact with the hard, cold terrazzo floor. She opened her eyes to the sight of the overhead light s flickering and then steadying to a sickly yellow glow as the hospital’s generators came on. She could hear the voices of confused people, some moaning and others calling to each other.”

Runner reminded me how good a well-crafted thriller can be. It was very much like what David Morrell was writing in the late-1990s—Double Image, Extreme Denial, etc—but it has its own voice and style. Mr Perry is a terrific storyteller and if Runner is an example of his work I can’t wait to get my hands on more of it.

1 comment:

Steve Axelrod said...

You're in for a treat. I've been flogging the Jane Whitefield to novels to anyone who would listen for more than a decade. I got both my local bookstores to stock Perry's work ("Death Benefits" is an outstanding 'stand-alone' novel. Start with "Vanishing Act" ans prepare to lose a week.