Twenty years after a trio of lowlifes forced him out of retirement (Sleeping Dogs, 1992, etc.), the Butcher’s Boy is back.
When you’re a professional killer who works freelance, your employers are likely to include a large number of nasty guys. So it’s not clear to Perry’s nameless hero, who started calling himself Michael Schaeffer when he moved to England and settled in Bath as the husband of Lady Margaret Holroyd, which of his former associates sent the three men who inadvertently flushed him out of hiding and then tried to kill him. He has no trouble tracing the three to midlevel New York capo Michael Delamina, whom he kills on page two. In order to identify Delamina’s boss, however, he has to consult his old nemesis, Elizabeth Waring of the Justice Department. Taking a leaf from Hannibal Lecter’s playbook, he urges her, “Tell me, and I’ll tell you something.” When Elizabeth fingers rising under-boss Frank Tosca as Schaeffer’s next target, he gives her some juicy information on an old Tosca murder in return. But although “he had never failed to accomplish his goal when all it entailed was killing someone,” her news comes too late to help. By the time Schaeffer kills Tosca, the ambitious under-boss has convened a sit-down in which his counterparts from across the country have agreed to join his vendetta against the Butcher’s Boy—a goal Tosca’s death only makes them more eager to pursue. For her part, Elizabeth is so determined to bring Schaeffer into the Witness Protection Program as the ultimate informant that she’s willing offer him a series of unauthorized deals, which of course he spurns. Schaeffer is squeezed between two collective adversaries with virtually unlimited personnel and resources. On the other hand, only Schaeffer is the Butcher’s Boy.
Beneath the sky-high body count, the twisty plot is powered by Perry’s relentless focus on the question of where the next threat is coming from and how to survive it.