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MURDER BOOK by Thomas Perry: Book Review

Once again, Thomas Perry proves that he is a master of his craft.  Murder Book is an outstanding thriller that is almost impossible to put down.

Harry Duncan, a former police detective who worked in various big cities throughout the country, now is using his talents as a private investigator.  Just finishing a case, he gets a call from Ellen Leicester, his ex-wife, a United States Attorney, asking him to meet her.  She tells him that she’d like to hire him to look into a spate of violent crimes–extortions, robberies, even murders–that have occurred in districts where such crimes usually do not happen.

She says that the Justice Department doesn’t think this is significant enough to warrant using their forces to investigate, but, as she has the power to hire an independent consultant, she asks Harry to look into the problem.  Although Harry is less than enthusiastic, he agrees to look into it.

Harry heads toward rural Indiana and finds himself in the town of Parkman’s Elbow on the Ash-Grey River.  He stops at a bar/restaurant and is just finishing his lunch when Renee, the owner, informs him that two men are checking out his car in the parking lot.  When Harry goes outside, he’s told by one of them that his car appears to have a fake inspection sticker, but for an on-the-spot payment of one thousand dollars the problem can be solved.

A second man walks up behind Harry, and before either of the two men can react Harry has them on the ground and handcuffed.  They don’t respond to his questions, so he drives them to the State Police and returns to the cafe where he had lunch and where the two men had attempted their extortion.  Renee confirms his former wife’s statement that there has been a rash of violence in the area, but she doesn’t seem overly concerned.

Then, later in the evening, he goes back to the Elbow Cafe for a third time, and that’s when the situation escalates.  In the midst of the dinner hour, three men enter the Cafe and demand protection money from Renee.  When she refuses, later that evening they attempt to burn down her house.  When Harry stymies that plan and has them arrested, the three men, the Clark brothers, are put in the local jail but are released on bail the following day.  Sadly for them, that proves to be a mistake; within minutes of their release, all three are murdered.

Murder Book is a hard-boiled thriller, with a body count that mounts page by page.   I was in awe of the many inventive ways Duncan manages to thwart the potential killers, with each event confirming his former wife’s contention that there’s a major crime operation going on, although the final motive of the gangsters is not clear until the end of the novel.

Thomas Perry’s first novel, The Butcher’s Boy, won the 1983 Edgar for Best First Novel.  Perry also received the 2003 Gumshoe Award for Pursuit for Best Novel, the 2012 Barry award for Informant and and the 2021 Barry award for Eddie’s Boy, the last two in the Best Thriller category.  He is also the author of the Jane Whitefield series featuring an Indigenous woman who helps people disappear.

You can read more about the author at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden OldiesPast Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

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