Is Perry mellowing with age? Just as he took off the edge in his latest case for disappearance specialist Jane Whitefield (A String of Beads, 2014, etc.), he almost relaxes in this tale of a husband-and-wife detective duo pursuing a husband-and-wife pair of killers.
Not that there isn’t a high body count, beginning with James Ballantine, a research chemist who was killed a year ago, his body dumped into a North Hollywood storm drain. Absent any police progress, Ballantine’s firm, the Intercelleron Corporation, hires Sid and Veronica Abel to work the case. It’s an excellent choice, because Sid and Ronnie, both formerly of the LAPD, are brainy, thorough, and resourceful. They’ll need every bit of that resourcefulness once their offer of a $25,000 reward for information leads not to an arrest and conviction but to several increasingly determined attempts on their lives. The would-be killers, Ed and Nicole Hoyt, are the kind of people Perry knows like the back of his hand: coldhearted, businesslike, and consummately successful—except this time. Soon enough, Vincent Boylan, the client who hired them to kill the Abels, comes after the Hoyts himself, and they leave him dead. Meanwhile, the Abels get leads on Ballantine’s adulterous girlfriends, each of whom has a sadly, amusingly distinctive story to tell. Eventually all four of the principals lift their sights from annihilating each other to tracking and neutralizing Boylan’s paymasters, who give the story its title.
It’s still entertaining and suspenseful to watch Sid and Ronnie and Ed and Nicole hatch plots to protect themselves by eliminating the shadowy figures who’ve been calling the shots, but their alliance strains belief, and 40 thieves turn out to be too many even for a writer as gifted as Perry to bring to life.