There was a point in Thomas Perry’s new novel, STRIP, where I thought that he had possibly overreached himself. Don’t get me wrong; I loved almost every word of the book, from beginning to end --- particularly the conclusion --- as it is full of memorable characters, each of them infused with one or more tragic flaws, in a plot that variously places them in league and at cross-purposes with each other. There are so many great characters with their own storylines, in fact, that I was afraid for a second or two that Perry had possibly lost track of one of them. This is not an unknown occurrence in genre fiction --- Raymond Chandler never did answer the question of who murdered Owen Taylor in THE BIG SLEEP --- but it is rare. Perry, as it turns out, didn’t forget anyone in STRIP, including the reader. The result is a complex romp that takes a shot at out-Leonarding Elmore Leonard with twists and turns and double- and triple-crosses galore.
The focal point of STRIP is arguably Claudiu “Manco” Kapak, a 60-something owner of an L.A.-area nightclub and a couple of strip bars that are collectively a cash cow for him. The entertainment establishments are popular and provide their own independent revenue stream; their income, in turn, provides a cover for Kapak’s money-laundering services. Kapak’s life begins to change when he is robbed in broad daylight by a masked thief. His reputation is such that he cannot permit this breach of decorum to go unpunished. Inquiries are made, and the name “Joe Carver” keeps coming up. Carver had nothing to do with the robbery, but is not the type of man who permits himself to be pushed around. When Kapak sends people after him, Carver responds in kind, and then some, leading to a war between the two.
The real culprit is actually a man named Jefferson Davis Falkins, who cannot believe how easy it was to rob Kapak. He has detected a chink in Kapak’s armor and begins exploiting it, again and again and again. He is aided in this endeavor by Carrie, his new girlfriend, a wild child who perhaps is enjoying her association with her criminal boyfriend just a bit more than she should. And then there are the police. Lieutenant Nick Slosser is in charge of the investigation into all of the robberies that have been plaguing Kapak, and thinks that Kapak is dirty. Slosser is right for all the wrong reasons and has his own dirty laundry --- he’s a bigamist, balancing two wives with matching families and wondering how he is going to send two children to the respective colleges of their choice.
It almost sounds as if STRIP is three different books, doesn’t it? And that is what I thought as well. As I zeroed in on the final 40 pages, I was all but certain that by novel’s end there would be several plot threads hanging in place to be resolved in a sequel or two. I was dead wrong. Perry resolves everything quite neatly and surprisingly, without a hint of any “okay, time to wrap this bad boy up” attitude rising up from between the lines. He does such a wonderful job of bringing all of this together that I did not mind a bit when I did a second (quick) reread just to figure out he did all of this. As it turns out, STRIP doesn’t need a sequel, but the characters who Perry created for it are so intriguing that I wouldn’t mind meeting them again.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 23, 2011