The creator of the Butcher Boy and disappearing specialist Jane Whitefield presents a bounty-hunter story that tops the genre as an unlicensed killer goes up against his even more dangerous prey.
It begins with the horrific, apparently random murders of 13 patrons and staff members in a Louisville restaurant. When Robert Cushner, the father of one of the late diners convinced that his son was the primary target, asks ex-cop LA criminology prof Daniel Millikan, called in as a consultant by the local law, to help him nail the perp, Millikan declines but supplies him with an even more potent name: Roy Prescott, the shadowy figure who’s made a specialty of tracking down killers by methods the police don’t want to know about. But you do, knows Perry (Blood Money, 2000, etc.), and that’s why he can spend the rest of this long, fleet novel alternating between Prescott’s plans to eliminate the murderer, sociopathic hired gun James Varney, and Varney’s equally enterprising plans, once he hears the footsteps over his shoulder, for decisive countermeasures. The mano à mano set-pieces, from some early skirmishes over the telephone to Prescott’s attempt to lure Varney into an elaborately constructed killing field, are nerve-shredding; only the pat flashbacks showing how each of the two antagonists-turned-killer break the tension. Once their backstories are used up, Perry gets down to the serious business of showing Prescott tracking Varney through a series of anonymous midwestern cities as Varney attempts to cover his tracks by killing everyone who’s gotten close to him in preparation for targeting his nemesis. Eventually, another 13 people will die before victor and reader can share a sigh of relief.
The focus throughout is relentlessly analytical, as if two unbeatable computers were battling it out over the chessboard for stakes of life and death—for themselves and for everybody else unlucky enough to be within range.