Here’s a question: if I can’t follow the plot of a novel, why do I still enjoy reading it? Legions of readers of Dashiell Hammett and John LeCarré have wondered the same thing. I’ve been working recently on the theory that curiosity may be the most powerful motivation to keep reading. Yet I couldn’t say that was strictly what kept me going with The Butcher’s Boy. There’s a lot about warring crime families, vengeance and general mayhem, all very complex. The characters were way ahead of me and I’m still a little bit baffled.
So here are a few things. The how-to business is always fascinating, and Perry excels at this. Where do you hide a gun in a hotel room? What’s the best way to move $4 million in cash? One long scene involves a character being paid for a hit by playing blackjack at successive casinos in Las Vegas. Could it really work this way? Who knows.
Perry also makes one of the protagonists a really sharp female Justice Department agent, and it’s enjoyable to see her running circles around her peers. (A pleasure, by the way, that Perry seems to toss in as a little bonus. It has nothing to do with the plot.) Then there’s the highly competent nameless “butcher’s boy” of the title, a hired killer. Just doing his job. There’s always a lot of pleasure in watching a craftsman ply his trade.
And finally, Perry is a stylish and able writer. Minor characters (the physically enormous Vegas fixer Little Norman, for instance) are floridly memorable, action and pacing click along and even in a routine bit of exposition, you get a descriptive sentence like this: “Inside [the casino] the light, the air, the colors, the sounds were all different and belonged to the spcial exigencies of this place, where the world consisted of a low-frequency hum of unflagging agitation, like an itch or a hope.”
Fortunately Perry is prolific.