THROWBACK THURSDAY: THE BUTCHER’S BOY by Thomas Perry (Constable, 1982)
Thomas Perry has just released the fourth novel in his popular series about the hired killer known as the Butcher’s Boy, Eddie’s Boy, almost forty years after the first book, The Butcher’s Boy (1982), appeared.
I have recently read and reviewed Eddie’s Boy, which I thoroughly enjoyed, and thought I would reprint my original review of The Butcher’s Boy, which I did for the Canberra Times back in March 1983 when the British Constable edition of the book (above) appeared in Australia.
Back then I wrote:
“Thomas Perry’s brilliantly plotted ‘The Butcher’s Boy’ is one of the most impressive debuts in the American crime thriller arena for many a long day.
The butcher’s boy of the title is a very professional and deadly hit man, whose real name is unknown, even to the reader. Much of his success lies in his outward ordinariness, and his ability to blend into any crowd. When, by chance, he is mugged, the resultant bruises make him a marked man, much to the displeasure of his anonymous Las Vegas bosses.
The man who hired him, through numerous middlemen, now wants him dead, and the butcher’s boy must fight back against tremendous odds to find out his hirer’s identity. As well as Las Vegas mobsters, he is also being relentlessly pursued by the FBI and its computers.
Elizabeth Waring, a bright young analyst in the Justice Department, has the job of checking computer printouts to piece together information on professional hit men and mob activities. When she receives her first field assignment to investigate the possible murder of a union official, she finds herself on the bloody trail of the butcher’s boy.
Perry carefully balances his parallel plots, with the FBI and Waring blindly stumbling after the butcher’s boy as he tries to keep one step ahead of the mobsters, while taking personal revenge on those leaders who ordered his extermination.
Perry manages the difficult task of gaining the reader’s sympathy for the amoral hit man by applying the time honoured fictional rule; that if you want readers to become attached to a character, portray in detail that character attempting something difficult, against great odds. He also heightens the tension by alternating sections in which we see the action from the hit man’s viewpoint, with those from Elizabeth Waring’s perspective.
These ploys add enormously to the pace and suspense of the book. The reader often knows things that the butcher’s boy or the police do not, but the final picture is not completed until the last ironic sentence.
The writing and plotting are generally good throughout, faltering only slightly towards the end. The characters are nicely rounded, and not the one-dimensional, cardboard cut-outs which often grace the genre.
‘The Butcher’s Boy’, is a stunning debut, and Mr Perry is definitely one to look out for in the future.”
The Butcher’s Boy won the 1983 Edgar Award for Best First Mystery Novel and, on re-reading, it is just as enjoyable now, as it was all those years ago. It marked the beginning of a stellar career that to date has seen Perry write some 28 novels, including 4 in his Butcher’s Boy series and 8 in his highly enjoyable Jane Whitefield series. All his books are a must for those who enjoy tough crime novels with strong characters and good plots.
The only problem with Thomas Perry’s novels is that they have been difficult to find in Australia over the years. Thanks to Amazon and the like, that is now much easier!
I had the pleasure of meeting Thomas Perry at the Bouchercon in Dallas last year and got him to sign one of the books I was missing from my collection, Dead Aim.
Here is a link to my review of Thomas Perry’s Eddie’s Boy: https://murdermayhemandlongdogs.com/eddies-boy-by-thomas-perry-black-cat-december-2020/