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Posts Tagged ‘paid assassin’

THE DEAD OF WINTER by Rennie Airth: Book Review

It’s difficult for an author to write a trilogy featuring a former police detective that goes from just after World War I to the middle of World War II and make it believable. After all, the question facing authors as to whether or not to have their characters age is a hard one.  But in the third book in this series featuring former Scotland Yard inspector John Madden, Rennie Airth shows that it can be done, and done convincingly.

The Dead of Winter opens with a prologue. It’s 1940 in Paris, and Maurice Sobel, a French Jew, is getting ready to leave his country, one step ahead of the invading Nazis. His wife and sons have already reached America, but Sobel wants and needs to close his business and bring some capital with him to the United States.  He converts the money he receives for his business into easy-to-carry diamonds he purchased from a Dutch dealer working in Paris.

Two nights before his planned leave-taking he receives a phone call from a friend who knows that Sobel is getting ready to leave France, asking if he would be willing to take two Polish refugees along with him to Portugal.  Sobel agrees, and on the night he receives the diamonds and is doing last-minute preparations prior to departure, he hears his doorbell ring.  Sobel opens the door, expecting to see his traveling companions, and it is the last thing he does.  His throat is encircled by a thin wire, and Sobel drops to the floor, dead.

Now it’s November 1944, and the war has been going on for more than five years in Europe. Men too old to fight have been given jobs on the Home Front.  One of these air wardens, whose job it is to see that the blackout in London is strictly observed, is walking his beat when he sees a young woman in front of him carrying a basket and a bundle.  She seems apprehensive but refuses his offer to walk with her and help her carry the items, saying her destination is just around the corner.  When he turns that same corner less than a minute later, he stumbles over her; her slight body is twisted, and she has a broken neck.

Scotland Yard is almost ready to call the murder one of the too-frequent acts of violence that have come to the city since the beginning of the war.  The only reason the Yard hesitates is that the girl, Rosa Nowak, is identified as a land girl, a farm helper, who is working for former Inspector John Madden of the Yard.

Rosa came to England as a refugee, having lost her parents and siblings to the Nazis, and her quiet demeanor and inexpressible sadness had touched Madden’s family.  Madden wants to make certain that Scotland Yard is doing all it can to find her killer.  When a prostitute comes forward several days later to say she may have seen the man who killed Rosa, the police are anxious to get a complete description of the man.  But before they can call her in for a second interview, her landlady calls the Yard to tell them that she has been killed, garrotted.

Other murders follow, and Scotland Yard fears it has a paid assassin on its hands, perhaps the first that the country has seen.

Rennie Airth’s trilogy seamlessly takes the reader from World War I England to World War II England.   Years have gone by, but John Madden is as interesting a character as he was in the first novel.

You can read more about Rennie Airth at his web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.

THE BUTCHER’S BOY and THE INFORMANT by Thomas Perry: Book Review

It’s not exactly two for the price of one, but it is two books that should be read consecutively.

The Butcher’s Boy won the Edgar in 1983 for Best First Novel, a wise decision on the part of the judges. Now, in his nineteenth novel, Thomas Perry finishes the story of the Butcher’s Boy, whose true name we never learn, and Elizabeth Waring, an attorney and researcher with the Department of Justice.

The Butcher’s Boy has been killing people since he was sixteen, under the tutelage of The Butcher, real name Eddie Mastrewski.  The Boy had been orphaned with no close relatives to take him in, so Mastrewski, a neighbor, unofficially adopted him and taught him two trades.  One was Mastrewski’s official trade, that of a butcher who owned his own shop, and the other a paid assassin for the Mafia.  The second one was more monetarily rewarding.

After blowing up the truck of a labor union man who is suspicious of the way his union’s pension fund is being handled, the B.B. is on his way to murder a U.S. senator when he is set upon by two muggers in a dark alley. He kills them both and then successfully kills the senator, completing the job he was hired for, but his face shows bruises and cuts made by the muggers.  That apparently sets off a wave of concern at the higher levels of the Mafia that he may be attracting too much attention, and a contract is put out on the B.B.

Elizabeth Waring, who has a desk job at the Department of Justice, is the only person there who begins to see a pattern in a number of suspicious death notices that pass through her desk every day. She sets off to investigate the labor union official’s death but is pulled off that job before she can accomplish anything.  She’s sent to investigate the death of the senator, which she originally resents, but then she comes to believe there is a connection between the two deaths.  But she’s the only one.

In The Informant, ten years have passed since we last saw the B.B. and Elizabeth Waring. It’s not giving away the ending of The Butcher’s Boy to say he wasn’t captured–if he had been, there would have been no Informant. The B.B., who is now calling himself Michael Schaeffer, has been living a quiet life in England when he’s spotted by two killers who are sent by the Mafia to assassinate the B.B. and his wife.  He decides he has to return to the States and take out the men who ordered his death.

Schaeffer’s killing of the first man sets off a Mafia meeting in Phoenix, where the second man he wants to kill is asking his fellow Cosa Nostra bosses to band together to kill the B.B. He gets the agreement he wants but is killed within an hour by Schaeffer.  When his body is discovered, the other bosses are even more determined in their quest to eliminate the B.B. from their lives once and for all.

In the meantime, Elizabeth Waring is fighting a losing battle with her supervisor to follow the clues leading to the B.B.  Frustrated, she decides to act first and ask permission later, certain that she can find the B.B. and get him to turn informer because she believes he won’t be able to outrun the Mob.

These two books are fascinating journeys into the lives and minds of two very different people. The chapters alternate between the Butcher’s Boy and Waring, and following their thoughts and plans makes for exciting reading.  And the ending of The Informant ties everything together believably.

You can read more about Thomas Perry at his web site.