An unusually determined suicide pulls a retired Santa Barbara contractor into a ring of trained killers in this newest stand-alone from the chronicler of the Butcher Boy (Sleeping Dogs, 1992, etc.) and Jane Whitefield (The Face-Changers, 1998, etc.).
Sitting on the beach one morning, Robert Mallon is astonished to see a young woman walk calmly into the water and disappear. He pulls her out and revives her, but she refuses to go to a hospital, though she does agree to come to his house, where she promptly and thoroughly seduces him, ceasing only to ask him to pick up some takeout for dinner. When he returns, she’s gone, and two days later, he reads of her second, successful suicide attempt. Who was this Jane Doe, and why was she so determined to die when she had youth, beauty, money, and—as Mallon and his old friend, p.i. Lydia Marks, soon learn—a sister who cared deeply about her? Traveling as far as Pittsburgh and New York, the conveniently wealthy and inquisitive Mallon links the suicide to the execution-style murder a year earlier of Los Angeles hunk Mark Romano, and ultimately back to the wilds of California, where the Safe-Force School of Self-Defense offers a $40,000 month-long course in martial arts, firearms, and all the other skills a few well-heeled clients need to know to protect themselves from bodily harm, and perhaps to inflict a little harm themselves. Once Safe-Force founder Michael Parish gets wind of Mallon’s interest in his enterprise, the story slips into the foolproof cat-and-cats groove Perry’s shown off in Pursuit (2001) and a dozen earlier nerve-shredders.
It’s hard to believe Mallon’s well-financed curiosity in the first half of this adventure, and the second half is simply superior action-film fare with a body count to match. But nobody who starts this tense, improbable tale will put it down half-finished.