Thursday, September 1, 2011
There is only one line that can sum up Strip, a fast-moving crime novel from Edgar winner Thomas Perry. We choose how we die by the way we live.
Except, of course, Perry isn't exactly obvious in a book that begins as a case of mistaken identity before tumbling into a world of make believe identities, where no one is who they seem to be. In this eat-or-be-eaten gangster underworld, it's impossible to guess which fish is the big one and which are the little ones.
This is certainly true of aging strip club owner Manco Kapak, who is neither as soft nor as hard as anyone might suspect. It's also true of Lt. Nick Slosser, a seasoned officer who is just as committed to keeping a dirty little secret as he is in nailing Kapak. And it's absolutely true of Joe Carver, who turns out to be the worst person Kapak could have given the order to kill over a robbery Carver didn't commit.
Strip is slick in its ability to peel away the facades and fakery.
Never mind that Perry isn't as elegantly raw as the masterful Elmore Leonard. He is entertaining in his own right, albeit more straightforward as he bounces back and forth from one point of view to another in order to unravel a thickly woven web of lies. On the surface, doing so sometimes disrupts the story. But in truth, it reinforces a central point in the novel.
People aren't necessarily good or bad as much as they attempt to play out roles that easily earn scorn, sympathy, or admiration from one page to the next. Perry is adept at plucking those notes effortlessly when he writes about Kapak, leading readers to despise, sympathize, and even admire him. All the while, Carver and other characters are played the same way, with some on parallel and others on reverse trajectories.
While some reviews are critical on this point because it prevents any character from being neatly characterized, it ensures something Perry was obviously striving for. There is no nice and tidy ending. His justice is blind, serving up lighter and harsher sentences than any character deserves, except one (perhaps). It's all relatively random.
At the onset, Kapak and Carver are set up as lead adversaries. Kapak as described; Carver as an apparent victim, accidentally framed for a robbery. Had anyone else been fingered by random everyday informants, it would have likely ended badly. But Carver isn't a typical patsy. With the help of the secret witness protection program, he is trying to start over again in Los Angeles.
Strip is a collision of immoral people trying to get by.
Given that Carver is the least believable in that his real story is never revealed (he maintains he was a simple bar owner at the wrong place at wrong time), swapping him out in favor of the real robber(s), the officer, various bodyguards, and other hired help distracts from the hole in his history. All of the others are fleshed out enough, with some more prone to being loathed than others.
Two of the most vibrant include adrenaline junkie Carrie Carr, who hooks up with the robber. The other is Spense, Kapak's most trusted personal assistant and bodyguard. Spense has the most sense of anybody around Kapak, even if he is leveraging what can best be described as a rented reputation.
The balance are reasonably well-drawn, and Perry gives just enough for a rough composite of who they are. Few of them operate within the confines of what might be expected. All of them take unnecessary chances, even if those chances don't collectively muster enough to place this in the thriller column.
A brief about author Thomas Perry.
Best known for The Butcher’s Boy, which won him the Edgar Award, and Vanishing Act, which landed on the 100 favorite mystery list of the Independent Mystery Bookseller’s Association, Perry worked dozens of jobs while earning his education. Some of them include park maintenance, factory labor, and commercial fishing.
The jobs clearly helped him better understand people, and remain independent of too much academia (preferring good-humored smart ass to intellectual). He earned his bachelor's degree from Cornell University in 1969; and Ph.D. in English from the University of Rochester in 1974. He has worked as a university administrator and teacher. He has also written and produced several prime time network television shows.
Eight years after his first novel (and after working for Universal Studios with his wife), Perry started writing full time while his children were at school. While he does some research for his work, he prefers jumping into a story and allowing pre-developed 3-dimensional characters to come to life and act out their parts. This seems to be the case in Strip.
Thomas Perry's Strip Uncovers A Collision Of Criminals At 4.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.
Perry has always been grateful for his fans and what he frequently calls the privilege to write. Most people don't consider it his best, but it is entertaining as a passenger in a car on cruise control. If you check it out, sit back and enjoy the scenery. Perry has plotted a wickedly interesting route.
Strip by Thomas Perry is available on Amazon or you can find the book at Barnes & Noble. Strip can also be downloaded to iBooks.