Forty Thieves by Thomas Perry

2 Mins read

Thomas Perry is an American thriller writer famous for his 1982 debut, The Butcher’s Boy, which we wrote about here in our feature on influential first novels. He also wrote the Jane Whitefield series about a Native American guide who helps the desperate disappear, and has done a number of stand-alone novels and written for television.

His latest is Forty Thieves and it begins with the discovery of a dead body. The corpse of a black man is blocking an LA sewer and when the body is examined it turns out he was shot twice in the head. The identity of the victim, James Ballantine, a research chemist working for Intercelleron, proves easy to establish, but after that the case goes cold. Ballantine was well-liked at work, had an unremarkable private life, and the killer did a professional job leaving no evidence.

After a year without a breakthrough, the people at Intercelleron decide to hire a private investigating firm specialising in cold cases. Sid and Ronnie Abel are a married pair of ex-cops who decided they would rather work together, something that the LAPD would never allow. They are middle-aged, have a happy marriage, and make a great team. After accepting the case, the couple decide their entry into the investigation will be to work out where Ballantine was dumped into the drainage system. Sewers are routinely opened when a new housing development is begun, and city records suggest three possible locations.

When they visit the first location that evening, they notice a car following them. The attempt to brace their pursuers leads to a car chase and shots are fired at them before the car escapes. The next morning Sid and Ronnie are ambushed at their own home. This time the threat is greater as the couple are fired at with automatic weapons and they are lucky to escape with their lives.

Forty Thieves features a second married couple. Nicole and Ed Hoyt are about a decade younger at met in the Army. Nicole was a bit of a lost soul but Ed was already into his criminal career. The couple never enlisted, instead running off together to get married, and then starting their career as assassins. Their go-between hired them to take out the Abels after he saw an advert offering a reward for information about Ballantine’s murder.

The story picks up pace as the two couples engage in a cat-and-mouse game as Sid and Ronnie try to draw out the killers while looking into Ballantine’s death. Nicole and Ed try to get to the Abels before they solve the case. One of the pleasures of the book is the way Perry shows us their respective relationships. Sid and Ronnie have a union of equals, sharing an obvious affection as well as an enjoyment of their job. Nicole also loves Ed, but it is an insecure love, and she is afraid of him leaving her for a younger woman. Ed is probably not capable of love but is intensely loyal to Nicole in a brothers-in-arms fashion and respectful of her shooting abilities.

Perry introduces some complication to the plot by having both couples mixed up with a Russian diamond-stealing gang – the forty thieves of the title. As the plot develops the three parties zero in on one another leading to a violent climax, the ending of which leaves room for a sequel. The plot is somewhat repetitive though, and more zip will be needed if there’s to be a sequel. The two couples – and especially Sid and Ronnie – make for interesting antagonists and I wouldn’t mind meeting them again. Perry is a dab hand at writing action, however it’s the portrayal of the two marriages that elevates Forty Thieves above the average thriller.

Forty Thieves is released 8 January.

Mysterious Press

CFL Rating: 3 Stars

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