Sleeping Dogs is the sequel to Thomas Perry’s The Butcher’s Boy, and unlike many sequels, it is just as strong as the original story. The Butcher’s Boy, the nameless professional assassin, has spent ten years lying low in England with an aristocratic girlfriend. He is spotted, though, at the race track, by a low-level mafioso who tries to kill him, and the rest of the novel is what you’d expect: an extended chase scene with interludes for mayhem.
We know Perry is incredibly adept at the important elements of thriller-writing: suspense, pacing, and know-how. What I admired even more in this book was the way he manages to make this stone-cold killer somewhat sympathetic, so that the reader is in the unusual position of rooting both for the good guys and the bad guys. The forces of order are represented by Elizabeth Waring, the sharp Justice Department agent from The Butcher’s Boy. She is now a single mother, in addition to being smarter than her bosses, so of course we like her. But the killer is a much tougher sell. Perry even makes it plain that the man has no stable identity. He’d just as soon be William Wolf as Charles Ackerman. It makes absolutely no difference to him. Chilling. But Perry also gives us more anecdotes about the man’s apprenticeship as a child murderer, so he gets some points for sympathy. And the true villains are the venal, violent members of the Mafia, who don’t share an appealing feature among them. The murderer wipes out one after another, and you don’t regret it. He begins to feel more like an aggrieved consumer attempting to get satisfaction from customer service than a multiple murderer. Toward the end Perry allows him to show some concern for a sympathetic character we’re already invested in and we’re really glad to see him get away with…. Yup.