Yes, he’s done it again, in time for summer vacation. With Strip, Thomas Perry has brought us another hypercompetent and actually thrilling thriller. It may be a slight flaw that the most exciting scene takes place first, as Joe Carver (not his real name) lurks in a construction crane 250 feet above earth, watching five men in two black Hummers search the building site for him. Curiously the height factor amplifies the suspense of the scene — maybe by adding an extra level of menace to Carver’s situation?
Here’s what Perry’s best at, besides plotting. (Which I don’t deny he does really well.) He puts the reader in the consciousness of sundry slightly scuzzy characters and makes them sympathetic. For instance, Manco Kapak, proprietor of several LA strip clubs, has his problems and his sadnesses like any other 64-year-old businessman. “Joe Carver” is a decent guy caught up in a case of mistaken identity and he just has to defend himself, using a fairly unusual set of skills involving firearms and hand-to-hand combat. And the police chief has his own problems which Perry can’t really expect us to take seriously. There’s maybe a faint ironic sheen on some of this, but it’s all pretty good-natured. Perry knows he’s entertaining us so he doesn’t waste much time on character development or scene-setting, preferring to concentrate on the double-cross. No honor among thieves, you know.
I wonder why Perry isn’t as successful as Lee Child. This was a more satisfying read than 61 Hours. I suspect it’s that Perry hasn’t stuck to one iconic character. It makes his books slightly less predictable. You would think that was a virtue, but with escape literature, maybe the preferred range of difference from one iteration to another is pretty narrow.