The Old Man
There are few better ways to begin a new year than with a Thomas Perry novel. His latest offering, THE OLD MAN, visits a theme that has been recurring gradually over the past few years. Though it has not reached the stage or frequency of the “girl” novels, demographics and practicalities find protagonists to be seasoned, experienced and older, demonstrating the observation of essayist P. J. O’Rourke that “age and guile beat youth, inexperience and a bad haircut.”
The “age and guile” side of the equation in THE OLD MAN is represented by a gentleman introduced to the reader as “Dan Chase” but who changes his name frequently over the course of the book. When we first meet him, Chase is a hale 60-year-old widower living with his two dogs in Vermont. We learn quickly enough that 1) he is on the alert for an intrusion into his staid, comfortable life, and 2) he is prepared for it, right down to prepping his adult daughter living across the country in the whys and how-tos of anonymous survival. Chase goes from alert to full-fledged alarm when his rural home is invaded, requiring that he go on the run for backstory reasons that we slowly learn over the first third or so of the book.
"It's a sign of Perry’s talent that he makes the manner in which Chase is discovered, after seemingly rendering himself invisible, as interesting and chilling as the rest of the book. This is a perfect read to raise your pulse and, yes, your paranoia level."
Over three decades previously, Chase was a government operative tasked with shepherding a very large amount of American currency to a United States-backed rebel group in Libya. When the money was short-stopped for personal gain by his contact over there, Chase stole the money back and returned it to the US, only to find that this was not what his handlers had in mind. Suddenly cut off from all of his former resources, Chase has been on the run since that time, hiding in plain view as the years and technology made such a course of action increasingly difficult.
Now, pursued by Libyan agents with the apparent blessing of the agency that formerly employed him, Chase must make use of the plans he meticulously has been making and building for over three decades while utilizing the funds that he liberated from their unlawful owner as seed money. And use them he does. Chase may be older, but he is seasoned and has forgotten more than his pursuers have learned, even turning what initially appears to be an error of weakness in the present into a future asset. Along the way and a name or two later, Chase also acquires a travelling companion who provides succor and complications, even as he slowly begins to initiate the biggest plan of all --- that being a desperate, globe-hopping gambit to get his pursuers off his back so he and his daughter can finally live in peace.
If you liked the Taken series of movies, you will love THE OLD MAN. I kept visualizing Liam Neeson as Chase (what an appropriate name for the character) throughout the book, and can’t think of a better choice for the lead role should this most worthy novel be optioned for a film version or, better yet, a television series. There is what I consider to be a minor hiccup in the book, one in which a supposedly highly trained, if somewhat inexperienced, operative makes a move on a target who is accompanied by two large dogs. The logic behind this is explained later, though it’s not entirely convincing. It turns out to be a bit of a plot pivot that (kind of) justifies its occurrence, though not completely satisfactorily.
That aside, THE OLD MAN is certainly one of Perry’s better books, which is high praise, considering that he has yet to write a bad one. Even after giving his pursuers what he thinks they want, our protagonist still finds himself hunted. He has to go to some great lengths to get them off his trail, and how he attempts to do so makes for an extremely suspenseful read. If one were of a mind to go off the grid while maintaining creature comforts, THE OLD MAN might be considered a “how-to” book of sorts, provided that one had lots of time to plan and plenty of the requisite cheddar to do it.
It's a sign of Perry’s talent that he makes the manner in which Chase is discovered, after seemingly rendering himself invisible, as interesting and chilling as the rest of the book. This is a perfect read to raise your pulse and, yes, your paranoia level.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 6, 2017