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Thursday, July 10, 2008

Fidelity (hardcover, $25), by Thomas Perry

Perry’s latest book has two elements I really enjoy: a good female character and a character who is quirkily meticulous. Perry is the creator of the wonderful Jane Whitefield* series and is the uncommon male author who can write an authentic female character. In Fidelity, Emily Kramer, widow of a private detective murdered under mysterious circumstances, appears with the right balance of vulnerability and strength. Point of Impact, by Stephen Hunter, against all odds, is one of my favorite books, its protagonist a Vietnam-era sniper. I enjoy a strange satisfaction from the detailed way Bob Lee Swagger, Hunter’s protagonist, narrates the art of sniping. Jerry Hobart, one of Perry’s many main characters, is a career criminal and a killer for hire. Perry’s careful detailing of Hobart’s planning and execution of his tasks echoes Hunter’s writing.

In the proverbial nutshell: Phil Kramer is murdered. His widow and the remaining detectives in his agency try to find his killer. It rapidly becomes obvious to them that Phil had an unusually secretive streak. They posit that Phil was murdered because of one of his cases and that somewhere he has hidden the evidence to unmask his killer. They learn that someone else has also figured the same thing when Emily is terrorized by Jerry Hobart, who wants that evidence on behalf of his client. It is a race to find the evidence, if it exists.

While I enjoyed the characterizations, the writing seemed too plain for the complicated emotions running through the story. With exceptions, the writing seemed terse and uncomplicated, belying the twisty path of the plot. I often grumble about how authors fail to put enough detail into their stories, the reader’s need for underlying coherence taking second place to advancing the thrill-a-thon. Perry, if I may grumble in the opposite direction, suffers from TMI. Too much information. For example, chosen (mostly) at random:

“Ted Forrest awoke knowing it was late. He could see that the level of the sun was high, that it must be at least ten. He also knew that something had come to him during the night while he was asleep, some idea, some decision. He got up and went into the bathroom. He had not brought any of his toiletries into the guest suite, but the guest bathrooms were always stocked with toothbrushes and razors and combs. He showered and wore the bathrobe from the suite to walk down the hall to the master suite.”

On the other hand, Emily has duct tape placed over her eyes as a blindfold. When the duct tape is removed, although it is painful, the implication is that she keeps her eyelashes and eyebrow hair. I am unwilling to actually test it, but my belief is that duct tape placed over one’s eyes would in fact undoubtedly whip a fair number of those lashes right out. (I hope I’m wrong and Perry is right.) I am a charter member in The Capricious Reader Society, so I want to know why doesn’t the author detail the duct tape issue and ignore where Forrest got his toothbrush.

Contrary to what you are probably thinking right now, I am actually quite easy to please and ignore, at no peril, all sorts of inconsistencies. For example, why doesn’t Hobart hare off and torture some of the people who wind up helping Emily? He certainly knows about them. He could easily go from A to C without stopping at B. But if he had, the book would have been a hundred pages shorter and certainly not as interesting.

The bottom line is I felt Perry had too many main characters -- however well done -- and too much detail about inconsequential things. On the third hand, many of Perry’s scenes -- most notably with Hobart and his on-again-off-again girlfriend -- were splendid and some of the twists provided OMG (oh, my God) moments.

* Jane Whitefield runs an unofficial witness protection program. She helps people “disappear” when their lives are in danger and they have no other recourse. Rumor has it that, after a lengthy absence, Perry is in the process of writing another Whitefield book.

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