POISON FLOWER is the seventh installment in Thomas Perry’s series featuring Jane Whitefield, who is a unique protagonist. Whitefield, a member of the Seneca nation, self-identifies as a guide, one who leads her clients --- innocents, by and large --- out of harm’s way. This is the theme, as one might expect, in this latest addition, in which Whitefield accomplishes her goal early on, but at great personal cost.
"Perry has created a credibly strong and extremely dangerous hero who does not cloak herself in politically correct trappings to achieve her goals."
The book commences with Whitefield extricating a man named James Shelby from incarceration in the California Institution for Men in Chino, California. Shelby is serving a prison sentence there for the murder of his wife, a crime he did not commit. Whitefield successfully frees Shelby in a daring and gutsy courthouse sting, but is herself captured by men masquerading as policemen. Her captors, as it turns out, are in the employ of the man who framed Shelby to begin with. They are charged with learning his whereabouts, and are not subtle in the methods they employ for extracting the information. Perry does not flinch from a full-on description of what occurs as Whitefield’s silence in response to their questions is met with physical escalation. This is damage from which she will not walk away entirely intact, so that the narrative in the first quarter of the book is somewhat unsettling, to say the least.
Whitefield is able to extricate herself from her captor’s grasp, but then must begin a long and harrowing journey to join Shelby at an agreed-upon location and then transport him across the country to his sister’s home, where they will begin lives under a new identity. Their pursuers are aware of the sister’s existence, and correctly anticipate that her home is Whitefield and Shelby’s final destination. For Whitefield, the battle against their pursuers is only part of her mission; her ultimate target is the mysterious man who framed Shelby to begin with and who caused the physical damage inflicted upon her. By the book’s conclusion, the title has taken on two different meanings: one that is applicable to Whitefield herself, the other to a deadly weapon that she hopes to utilize in her ultimate act of revenge.
Perry has created a credibly strong and extremely dangerous hero who does not cloak herself in politically correct trappings to achieve her goals. While POISON FLOWER is a chilling book --- sometimes uncomfortably so --- at its core it’s an uncomplicated story of deadly and violent good versus a dark and unrelenting evil. And while the originality of Whitefield lures the reader in as a one-woman private Witness Protection program, it is the story, and the fiery hoops that Whitefield must jump through, that keep the reader in the seat and coming back for more.
As well done as Perry’s backlist of books has been, I suspect that he has yet to write his best work. POISON FLOWER --- readable, intriguing, and compelling from first page to last --- is both the promise and a partial fulfillment of what is to come.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on March 15, 2012