The above illustration, "Blowing Bubbles," has been adapted for use here by generous permission from the artist, Cyril Rolando.

February 2, 2009

REVIEW: RUNNER by Thomas Perry

SYNOPSIS: A young, pregnant Christine Monahan is on the run from her ex-boyfriend and his gang of professional thugs. She turns for help to Jane Whitefield McKinnon, a stranger whose work is taking people 'out of the world.' No, not killing them, making them disappear. She shows people whose lives are at risk how to assume new identities, new lives. Kind of a one-woman version of the Federal Witness Protection Program. When Jane, a Seneca, helps the hunted, she becomes prey also. But five years have passed since Jane did that kind of work. She married, and the digital world has made it a lot harder for people to vanish. Her skills are not only rusty, but outdated. But how could she refuse a frightened young girl who just wants to have her baby and live in peace? Especially when Christine's enemies are crazy enough to plant a bomb in a hospital just to smoke her out? Seriously, the family who want to find Christine, they're sociopaths. Their DNA went off the rails a couple of generations back.

REVIEW: After too many years, Thomas Perry has provided readers with a new entry in his popular Jane Whitefield series. I'm a long-time Perry fan of both the Whitefield series and his standalone novels. Metzger's Dog, The Butcher's Boy, Sleeping Dogs, Pursuit, Death Benefits -- I enjoyed them all immensely. But I thought perhaps I had lost my taste for Perry's work because two of his last three novels, Night Life and Silence, were books I did not enjoy at all. And I didn't read Fidelity, the book published prior to Runner.

So it was with some trepidation that I opened Runner. I needn't have worried. Jane Whitefield is back, with a vengeance. No, seriously, she's out to deliberately hurt somebody this time, something that's always been against her personal code. Perry has not lost the voice of Jane Whitefield, and the story he tells in this book is of an older Jane, a Jane who is ready -- she thinks -- to leave behind the dangers of eluding professional hunters and have a family. If the Jane of the early books was unusually stoic and heroic, this newer, mature version of Jane, with her doubts and desire for motherhood, is more interesting and more sympathetic. She's still a dangerous woman though, and that's why we all like her, right? And when a woman who desperately wants a child has to protect the unborn, who in their right mind would want to stand in her way?

Only those people crazy enough to go after Christine Monahan. The Beale family are an interesting group of sociopaths, because they don't think they are crazy. And on the surface, at first, they don't act crazy. But their motivations give away their secret. The Beales are not cartoon crazies, they are much more dangerous. They are the affluent workers of America, the ones with the overdeveloped sense of entitlement coupled with the certainty that they, and only they, are the real victims.

You might think that giving Jane a higher degree of emotional angst might slow the pace. Nope, this book gallops along from the opening chapter. In those chapters where the perspective is other than Jane's, the story does slow a little but it's never for long and those other perspectives, Christine's and the people searching for her, serve to ratchet up the tension each time Jane moves back into the spotlight and you, the reader, know better than she what forces are allied against her and Christine.

Thomas Perry has a gift for writing cat-and-mouse, hide-and-chase stories, and he's in fine form in this book. Here's an excerpt in which Jane and the hunters play a night game of chicken:
Jane squinted at the two sets of headlights coming toward them. One car pulled to the left as though to pass, but it was the front car. Now there was one car coming toward them in each lane. Jane switched on her headlights.

The car approaching in Jane's lane blinked its high beams on, then off.

Jane switched on her brights and left them on. She kept her foot on the gas pedal, maintaining her speed toward the car in her lane.

"Don't play chicken with them!"

"I'm not playing," said Jane.

The pair of cars stayed together, streaking toward them. In one of the cars, the driver punched the horn three times, then stiff-armed it, holding it down so the sound started high and seemed to go down the scale as the cars approached.

The row of four headlights kept growing bigger and brighter. The two cars seemed to be linked, impossible to separate, impossible to avoid. Christine put her hands in front of her face. "Oh God oh God," she said.

The car in Jane's lane wavered a little, then altered its course slightly and moved to the shoulder of the road to allow Jane to pass between the two cars, but Jane muttered, "It's not that easy." She pulled onto the shoulder, too, so she was once again on a course to collide with the car.


  1. I've never read any of these novels but they're now on my radar. Thanks.

  2. I hope you like them, David. You don't have to start at the beginning of the Whitefield series either, Perry did a fine job of making each book stand on its own.

  3. This fellow Whitefield fan would like to ask you a question. Could you please send me an email at when you get a chance? Thanks!

  4. Nice review. I've heard of this series, but hadn't given any of the books a try. Sounds interesting. Since Audible has it--btw, the only Jane Whitefield among Perry's lot there--I'll put it on my list. Thanks, Corey.

  5. le0: Audible has it? How did that happen?

    I hope the book has a good reader.