on January 1, 2009
I've read just about everything by Thomas Perry, and the Jane Whitefield books are my favorites. The brilliant Native American woman who takes people "out of the world" is back with an exciting new case. It's been a few years, and Jane must adjust to new realities (post-9/11 security systems, new Internet tracking capabilities, etc.) to help an abused, pregnant woman disappear from the ruthless people who are looking for her.
Perry knows Jane Whitefield inside and out, and everything she does in these adventures just rings true. Every new book is like a visit with an old friend, which is how I think of her. She uses her common sense while avoiding the thousands of mistakes most of us would make (phones, email, GPS, Internet, etc.) in making other people vanish without a trace. Of course, the modern world makes vanishing increasingly difficult, and Jane has to strive to keep ahead of all the latest technology that is her profession's enemy. This makes her a bit of an old-fashioned throwback--but it also enables her to get the job done. RUNNER is a fascinating addition to this wonderful series. Recommended.
I came late to the Jane Whitefield series, reading them all last spring, then waiting with bated breath for this newest installment. If I had started with RUNNER, I'm sure I would have liked it better, but it does seem pale in comparison with the earlier novels.
Jane Whitefield has a calling: she guides people out of the world. If your rich and abusive husband is going to kill you if you leave him, Jane will help you vanish. If the Mafia is on your trail and the Witness Protection Program isn't enough, Jane will give you a new life. Through a combination of physical courage that borders on derring-do and hyper-vigilance, Jane guides the runner through the stages of a vanishing act: new identity and location for transition, another set of realities for the long haul. To make this possible, Jane consults the stars of the underground identity culture - forgers, photographers, bent math whizzes --and she grows identities of her own through a variety of clever strategies.
The well-worn birth-certificate-of-a-dead-kid ploy is way too elementary for Jane Whitefield. If you like heist stories, the prep work she puts into identity-growing will fascinate you. And the real pay-off is this: she does it for good, not for money. Jane doesn't charge her runners. If they have money, she will use it to help them. If they later access money, they often send her a thank-you check. But it's all for the calling, nothing for personal gain. She says she does the work because 1) she is able to do it and 2) it needs to be done.
This very moral stance is somewhat under-cut by the increasing physical violence of the series. Jane racks up a high body count. The implicit rationale for this is that Seneca warriors protect their families. But Jane never says "no" to a runner, so this very elastic definition of family seems a bit facile. But most ethical male heroes slay their tens of thousands - Spenser comes immediately to mind - so I'm not losing sleep over Jane's corpses. They are all bad people doing things they shouldn't be doing. And - unlike many male heroes - Jane never overlooks her failures. We hear again and again about the mistakes she has made and the lives she has lost and this keeps things real. Perry realizes that the possibility of failure raises the level of tension 1000 per cent.
Perry's ability to write a convincing woman hero is very impressive. He ignores all the little things that trip men up - everyday grooming unrelated to disguises, for example - and pays shrewd attention to the way the world assesses women. (Nor is this a one-off feat. Read Nightlife for two amazing women, serial killer and detective.)
And the Seneca material is pure gold.
My favorite thing to find in mystery novels is a new world - art, national parks, Wall Street, computer security, archeology, obscure corners of the academy. Perry gives his readers fabulous chunks of Seneca history and culture, from big-picture contexts to the details of fingernail clippings. The Seneca traditions and culture add a huge dimension to the series and much of the raison d'être for Jane's actions. We meet other Seneca women and men, visit reservations, learn about tribal traditions which make Jane's choices not only believable, but virtually inevitable. And the author's sense of setting is phenomenal. In the first novel, I tracked Jane through the Adirondacks on Google Earth using Perry's vivid (and accurate) descriptions of place. This is an A+ series on almost every level. I just wish there were more novels.
That said, Runner was a disappointment. The post-9/11 security requirements pose a huge problem for Perry, who has Jane jumping on and off planes as if they were London busses in the earlier books. Obviously that has to cease, but it's puzzling that Perry didn't give the Homeland Security topic more play, instead making Jane shy away from airports because so many people are looking for her.
While there's a glam about 10 planes in one day, the book need not have suffered if Perry had given us something else. But we don't get details about Jane's drives, not after the first run with Christine. Similarly, the minutiae of setting up a new life for someone is always fascinating, but here it's merely summarized, not detailed for the reader's enjoyment. The sense of place I loved so much in the first five books has been misplaced here. The Seneca material is only very lightly sketched, as is the character of the runner, and the motivation of the bad guys is barely credible.
Every author has an off day, and this is still a good read. If you are new to the series, comfort yourself that going back to the first five books will be even better.
on January 23, 2009
I am a big fan of Jane Whitefield, and the worst Jane Whitefield book (which I think this is) is still a whole lot better than an awful lot of mystery/suspense books out there.
That said, this one isn't carried through with Perry's usual precision. Without giving away the ending, I'd just like to say that he uses a change of point of view at the end to avoid detailing a rescue that he apparently had lost interest in, or invention for. One of the things I like about this series is that Jane usually uses her ingenuity to avoid bloodshed, but this time she kills 6 people with no apparent repercussions, even though there are people who know of her existence, if not her name. And yet the police are willing to leave that last element unprotected for the rescue I mention above....
Also, the admittedly poignant infertility plot seems weird to me--Carey's a doctor, for god's sake, and the two of them have more money than I can even imagine (I liked when she put the $40,000 charge on her card--billable to another identity, no less)so why not try an IVF cycle, people? I don't think Perry did his research on this one, and he seems to have rushed through the ending. It's still a good read, just not as perfectly plotted as the rest of this series.
on January 2, 2009
I read "Runner" by Thomas Perry so fast - What happens next! What happens next! - that the pages started to smolder and smoke. I was forced to read the rest of it wearing fire retardant gloves and with a fire extinguisher within easy reach.
"Runner" hits bookstore shelves on January 14 and, once you've fireproofed your favorite reading chair, you should seriously consider added it to your collection. "Runner" is a marvel, and already in the running for my pick for best suspense novel of 2009.
Thomas Perry has always been an underrated scribe. He came out of the gates strong with his first novel "The Butcher's Boy," which won the 1983 Edgar Award for best first mystery novel.
But Perry really didn't hit his stride until he created Jane Whitefield - a Native American woman who helps desperate people "disappear" - guiding them to new lives while helping them escape their pasts, usually filled with various nasty people with guns.
Jane is hard as dried leather - and smart. Her character - the detail oriented, obsessive perfectionist with little humor and a demeanor as sullen as funeral - centers the novel. She's a fascinating case study as she plunges the reader into the underground world of forgeries and the act of "vanishing" without a trace.
Jane made her first appearance in "Vanishing Act" in 1995 and appeared in four more novels before Perry retired her in 2000. The series, however, has proven so popular, that Perry has dusted off Jane nine years later.
Lucky us. The result is "Runner."
Jane is now married to a surgeon in up-state New York and living under the name Jane McKinnon. The action begins immediately as a pregnant teenager named Christine tries to find Jane at the local hospital - where Jane is attending a fundraiser she organized.
There are five professional criminals trailing Christine - and they bomb a wing of the hospital in order to flush Christine out of the building. Christine, however, is fortunate enough to find Jane first.
The rest of "Runner" is a harrowing race to save Christine and her baby from her former boyfriend, a corrupt real estate mogul who needs Christine and his child back to avoid being written out of the family businesses by his demanding father and mother.
"Runner" is relentless - but never allows itself to get away from the characters. Perry gives readers complex characters in Christine and boyfriend Richard Beale (and his complicated family dynamics with his mother and father). There are no stereotypes or casting call characters here, but dynamic human beings.
There are some questionable logic lapses in "Runner" with the hospital bombing front and center (would career criminals in a covert operation really do something that dramatic?). And the relationship between Richard and his criminal friends, led by the enigmatic Steve Demming, fails to hold up under too much scrutiny (and we never get any insight into Demming and his colleagues motivations).
However, "Runner" is just too expertly plotted and burns up the pages like a flamethrower to get too caught up in the trivial complaints. The book is just too good for that. Our recommendation is to just guard against third-degree burns and let Jane Whitefield guide you through "Runner." You won't be sorry.
Like literate blather? Then head over to the Dark Party Review.
This book really kept me on my toes. It was extremely interesting, intriguing and exciting. I kept reading and reading way into the night because it held me totally. The character Jane is most unique and unlike any other book characters I have encountered. If you want a really exciting mystery this would be one to select. I know that I am glad I did.
I was very excited when I saw that Thomas Perry had written another installment in the Jane Whitefield series. I have not liked the books he has written since his last entry in this series.
The book started out with a bang. It was fast paced, lots of action, and great to see Jane back in top form, along with her physician husband, Carey.
When the plot developed further along and introduced the woman that Jane was going to help, that's where it broke down for me. The "victim" was one dimensional, the bad guys were unbelievable, and the writing was stiff and just didn't flow for me.
Whenever the story was on Jane, it was great. When the other characters were involved, even when husband Carey was talking, there was something missing.
I guess it's hard to meet expectations after so many years of writing about a character we all loved and admired.
I sure hope Mr. Perry tries again, as I have always thought he was a great writer. Maybe he can do better next time out.
In the sixth book of the Jane Whitefield series, and the first one to take place after 9/11, the rules of the game have changed. The game is simple: Jane takes people out of harm's way and places them safely, far away and under another name. She promised her husband to stop, and kept her promise for several years. But when a bomb goes off in his hospital and a pregnant girl tells Jane it was meant to flush her out, Jane grabs the girl and sets out on another mission. She's older, airport security is tighter, people recognize her from long ago...the stakes are higher for Jane. The stakes are pretty high for Christine, too - she's fleeing a man who is more than just abusive, who has the money to hire half a dozen people to bring her back. Things go relatively well at first, but Christine is too young and inexperienced to see every possibility for danger and is caught. Jane has never believed in revenge, but as she has struggled with childlessness, Christine's plight triggers an empathic response and she goes all out to rescue mother and child. This isn't the best book of the series for several reasons. First, Thomas Perry retired Jane years ago. I don't know why he chose to resurrect her, but his earlier passion seems to have diminished. The details of running, hiding and building new identities are somewhat perfunctory. His interest now appears to be Jane's midlife crisis: she always thought her mother had chosen to be happy and that if she followed her mother's path, she would be happy, too. But she realizes that she has a calling that she has suppressed, and may have been hiding behind the shadow of the doctor's wife. The emphasis on her desire to be a mother doesn't really ring true. There was never any sign in the previous five books that she had any such yearning. In fact, her marriage seems more like a business arrangement than a passionate attachment. What makes this book worth reading is that the plotting is good, as always, and it's clear that Jane is back in the game. The seventh book is being released in March 2012, and it will be interesting to see if Jane finds her feet again as a guide, or realizes that part of her life is truly over.
Jane McKinnon has been leading a calm and quiet life for the last five years (fictional years, that is; it has been nine "real" years since her last outing in one of Perry's books). As the wife of a Buffalo, NY surgeon, she has spent most of that time doing volunteer work - and hoping to start a family. She's struggling with the fact that hasn't happened when a series of (literally) explosive events forces her back into a life she thought she had left behind: as Jane Whitefield, half-Seneca Indian and a guide of sorts for individuals in danger who need to abandon their lives and `vanish' from the world they inhabit.
The current runner referred to in the title is Christine, a naïve 20-year-old who, after discovering she is pregnant, flees her abusive and much older boyfriend and boss. Partly because he wants her back and partly out of fear that she'll disclose his less-than-legal professional doings, Richard has sent a six-person team in pursuit of Christine as she, in turn, tries to reach Jane; a woman, she has been told, who can keep her safe. Times have changed since Jane returned from her last adventures, taking "people from places where somebody is trying to kill them to other places where nobody" threatens them. Post 9/11, it's harder to travel on false documents or even obtain them -- and besides, Jane had promised her husband not to venture into danger again. But something about the young girl -- perhaps her pregnancy, of which Jane struggles in vain not to be envious -- persuades her to take her to safety, despite the risk that this will upset her own peaceful life.
I'm a big fan of Perry's Jane Whitefield series, which is one reason I have celebrated her return as a character with this four-star rating. Still, in a number of ways, this latest episode isn't as compelling as his earlier books, such as Vanishing Act (Jane Whitfield Novel) and The Face-Changers (Jane Whitefield Novels). Perhaps the problem is that there are only so many plot devices available to Perry; a finite number of options for the "pursuit & escape" narrative that these novels rely on. Most of the readers who have devoured Jane Whitefield's previous adventures by now are very familiar with a lot of the steps she takes, from "growing" new identities to having her runners cut off their ties to their past lives. Even many of the suspenseful chase scenes end up feeling somewhat repetitive. It's not that these elements are clumsily handled, but more that the feel somewhat repetitive to anyone who has read and re-read the previous books. Often, reading this felt a bit like re-reading a favourite novel; one that you are so familiar with that you know what is going to happen next when you turn the page or roughly what Jane will do or say next. That's not necessarily a bad thing - after all, we all tend to re-read our favorite books until we know them that well. Still, it's a constraint that Perry will encounter increasingly if he chooses to continue the Whitefield saga.
Another minor weakness that prevents me giving this book a five-star rating is that the book doesn't have as many complex plot twists as Jane's previous adventures. In Runner, the reader learns relatively early on who is after Christine and why, so the suspense revolves around what happens -- and it's pretty straightforward. Christine's problem is an abusive boyfriend who, for reasons of his own, doesn't want her to escape his clutches. The only real twist involves Richard's parents, who, for reasons of their own, have a compelling interest in Christine's soon-to-be-born child. The "what" is still a good suspense narrative, but in past books in the series, the "who" and "why" have been more fully developed.
Another element I missed in Runner were Perry's insights in the real lives of today's Iroquois and Seneca, often a feature of the previous thrillers. In this, with a few exceptions (such as Jane's dream sequences), her Seneca identity is almost incidental to the plot.
Jane hasn't lost her edge, however, and the cluster of characters who surround her (from the forger and the bounty hunter who recognizes her in an airport, to the ghost of a dead `runner' she accidentally betrayed) are as intriguing and wacky as ever. The book is still a good, suspenseful read -- perfect for that long airplane flight or the snowy winter day when you want something to grab your attention -- but those who haven't encountered Jane Whitefield before are likely to get the most out of it. This is a good enough yarn to persuade any of them to pick up her earlier adventures. And each of which is easily, hands-down, a five-start suspense novel that I could recommend without any of the reservations I have about this one.
Thomas Perry brings back one of my favorite mystery/suspense characters, Jane Whitefield in RUNNER.
This novel has neither the pace or the style of earlier works. The pregnant young woman who is thrown into Jane's arms by a bomb at a hospital fund raiser never seems to develop as a person. She stands around letting things happen to her without paying attention to her danger.
Have my fingers crossed for the second, that Perry can get back in the grove.
Nash Black, author of SANDPRINTS OF DEATH.
on May 8, 2009
Thomas Perry is a wonderful writer and his Jane Whitefield series is a delight. However, this one should have been left in the drawer unpublished. The cardboard characterizations of the people (both the boyfriend and his parents) from whom Christine is fleeing are weak and not believable.