book: The Burglar (2019) by Thomas Perry

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A book that I read almost overnight and thoroughly enjoyed, although I found it had its flaws and the handling of the conclusion seemed a bit clumsy.

Elle Stowell is a house burglar in LA. Because she’s petite and pretty and young (though not as young as she looks), she adopts the role of a well heeled street runner in order to case snooty areas for likely prospects. She’s never been caught because her skill levels are high and her ambitions relatively low. She’s making a good living and all seems to be going well for her until the day when, mid-burglary, she comes across a murder scene: three people shot dead while clearly engaged in an act of troilistic sex. Elle also discovers that the trio were filming their performance and, in order to edit out the part at the end of the recording where she enters the room before sending the rest to the cops, removes the camera.

Soon she realizes she’s the target of a ruthless hunt mounted by an organization that she at first assumes must be the cops. But these people don’t behave like the cops, a fact brought home graphically to Elle when the frustrated hunters murder her best friend Sharon and Sharon’s boyfriend . . .

The rest of the novel is a sort of double cat-and-mouse tale as the bad guys attempt to find and kill Elle while she attempts to uncover their identity and prove, to a standard the cops can use and that will stand up in court, the guilt of the killers. Elle, an extremely relatable and likable protagonist despite the deplorability of her professional activities, gets herself into numerous predicaments, as you’d expect, out of which she extricates herself through resourcefulness and guile. The suspense is often high but, more than that, I found myself in a constant state of fascination with the whole setup. The novel had the same sort of appeal as one of Richard Morgan’s near-future neonoirs, but obviously without the sciencefictional trappings.

Holding back my exuberance a tad was Perry’s habit of too-frequently spelling things out in meticulous detail. Here, for example, is the start of a visit Elle makes to buy herself some equipment for her next exploit:

Elle pulled her car into a space at the giant hardware store and pushed a big orange shopping cart ahead of her. The place was organized just like a supermarket, with signs at the ends of aisles with numbers on them and categories like “Lumber and Carpentry,” “Plumbing,” “Lighting and Electric,” “Ventilation and Filters.”

Tell me, dear reader, have you ever been inside a home-improvement superstore that doesn’t look like this? Except for the first sentence, the rest is essentially a waste of a few lines of printing ink as the writer freewheels and the editor doesn’t bother to pounce — which wouldn’t matter too much if this sort of thing happened just a few times. But it happens a lot, and becomes particularly irritating when Perry repeats a piece of information in the same cumbrous style. (I have no idea if he does this in his other novels, of which there are about twenty-five.)

And then there’s the ending. The underlying nefarious scheme that has driven the plot is a very ingenious one, and I thoroughly applaud Perry for having come up with it. However, it’s revealed to us not through Elle’s ratiocination but through her eavesdropping on a conversation among the baddies that’s very close to being an extended “You already know all this but I’m going to explain it to you in detail anyway” exercise.

So much for the demerits. For this particular reader, though, the novel’s many merits — a wonderful protagonist, some absorbing storytelling, lots of yummy details of the burglary trade, plenty of suspenseful situations, an appealing setup and that gloriously inventive underlying premise — more than compensate for any quibbles I might have.

Thomas Perry isn’t an author who’s been on my map before. He is now.

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