It is arguably difficult to consider a group of books as a series when a decade (or two) passes between installments. Be that as it may, THE INFORMANT by Thomas Perry is the third in the series of Butcher's Boy novels, beginning with the award-winning THE BUTCHER'S BOY in 1982 and continuing with its sequel, SLEEPING DOGS, in 1992.
The premise is simple enough. The Butcher's Boy, who in THE INFORMANT calls himself Michael Schaeffer, is the protégé of a skilled hitman named Eddie Mastrewski, who was known as "Eddie the Butcher." This was due in part to the fact that he owned and operated a butcher shop as a cover for his more profitable and much less legal work activity. Schaeffer learned his trade at Matrewski's knee and honed his craft to the extent that he became one of organized crime's most in-demand hitmen.
All of that changed when a mobster decided to renege on an agreement with Schaeffer by attempting to have him murdered instead of paying him for a job well done. When the dust settled and the smoke cleared, Schaeffer was the last man standing. The mob, of course, could not let the murder of one of their own stand. Schaeffer killed enough of them that he thought he could live under his pseudonym in relative peace in England and married to royalty. But a price is on his head once again, and, as the book begins, a middle-aged Schaeffer is both hunter and hunted.
What makes THE INFORMANT absolutely riveting and wonderful from beginning to end is not so much what Perry does as how he does it. Schaeffer moves back and forth across the United States (with a foray or two into Canada as well). He kills a mobster and a few underlings. Someone else attempts to retaliate. Schaeffer barely escapes with his life and then he retaliates too, inflicting further damage. His idea is to make the cost of killing him so high in terms of loss of manpower that he'll be left alone. If his adversaries were geniuses, though, they would be working in Oak Ridge, Tennessee instead of running drugs and prostitution and operating gambling casinos. They continue upping the ante, and Schaeffer keeps mowing them down.
Elizabeth Waring, who first postulated the Butcher's Boy as the plague that seemed to suddenly be striking a bunch of organized crime biggies and their underlings, is back again, and she's having a hard time choosing between her honor and her career. Schaeffer is the prize she wants to bring in, for the man is a wealth of information that's the key for bringing down the mob for good. All she can offer him, however, is some enforced witness protection, and Schaeffer isn't buying. He has that wife whom he dearly loves back in England, and he will get back to her if he can and die if he must. But he will take as many heads of the crime families with him as he can.
Perry breaks some rules along the way. You'll be reading along in the middle of a sequence when Schaeffer begins to reminisce about his past, about something Eddie the Butcher taught him, or about a job that happened 30 years before when he was Eddie's apprentice. Perry will then yank the story back on track. Somehow it all works. The Butcher's Boy is not dissimilar to Don Pendleton's Executioner or Richard Stark's Parker, in that all three men are stone-cold pragmatic killers. Perry, though, is a master at painting his Boy into a corner and finding a way to get him out. Those familiar with Perry from his other novels will relish this new installment, while newcomers will immediately learn what all the fuss has been about.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on June 6, 2011