Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Risk Assessments

It was my friend, the much-missed Richard Condon, who first turned my attention toward Elmore Leonard. “He’s so good it hurts,” Condon said about Fifty-Two Pickup (1974). “The way he mixes laughter and menace is amazing.” I immediately gobbled up a copy of that novel, and then noshed my way through such other Leonard delights as Get Shorty and Swag like a starving Semite turned loose in the Carnegie Deli.

But even Leonard, who will celebrate his 85th birthday in October, can’t go on forever. Who will don his crown when he’s gone? A leading candidate has to be Thomas Perry, the author of such sinister mysteries as Metzger’s Dog, The Butcher’s Boy, and the just-released Strip (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt).

Perry has turned loose such an abundance of great, lovable/hateable characters in Strip that it’s hard to decide where to begin. Joe Carver is a man who arrives in California from New York. “He had chosen to come to Los Angeles, and some choices could be permanent. He couldn’t go back now to some place where just being alive was work. It was as though when he had crossed the California line, he had stepped off a cliff ...”

Hiding in a giant tower crane high above the city, protecting himself there from gunmen who think--wrongly--that he held up their boss at an ATM, Carver waxes poetic about his new home:
From up here Carver could see the beauty of the city, the long straight thoroughfares lined with brightly colored signs ... In the distance he could see the cluster of tall buildings at the city center. He always looked for the tallest, the cylindrical office building he thought of as the Nose-Hair Building, because it looked like a device he’d seen advertised on television late at night for shaving the nostrils ...
Another fascinating cast member is Manco Kapak, the mob boss and strip-club owner who had the misfortune to be robbed at gunpoint by a man in a ski mask. For reasons too complicated to explain, Manco and his men are sure that Carver did the dirty deed. Here’s how a naked, flabby but still formidable old lion like Manco reacts when he first meets Carver, who has broken into his house when Kapak emerges from the shower:
The man was about forty, with a short beard that looked as though he hadn’t had a chance to shave. “Who the hell are you?” Manco blusters. “I’m Joe Carver ... I came this morning because I wanted you to get a chance to look at me. Now you know that I’m somebody you never saw before. I never held you up.”
Meanwhile, Jefferson Davis Falkins, the real thief, decides to continue to rob Kapak. Then there’s a very interesting bent cop, who is a bigamist in need of mucho dinero to get his five children through college; Carrie Carr, a gorgeous nutcase who hooks up with Falkins; and Spence, Kapak’s trusted bodyguard.

Great characters plus fine, often laugh-out-loud writing equals a tremendous must-read.


Naomi Johnson said...

If Perry is starting to turn out books like Metzger's Dog again, I'm there. I'm so there.

Tom K Mason said...

Me too. Metzger's was the first thing I read of his and it remains a favorite.