Saturday, December 22

Nightlife - Thomas Perry

Tanya Starling could tell when her wealthy boyfriend Dennis came home that he was about to begin to become cheap, say no, deny her things. When she was a little girl she had to do without, but now she was a woman and the time of going without was past. She thought about trying to turn him around, but she realised that it couldn't be done.
So Tanya reminded herself of the things about Dennis she didn't like - his laugh, the way he always tipped precisely 15%, the way he looked at other women when he didn't know she could see him. As he came upstairs, sting they needed to talk, Tanya stroked his ego, told him to run a bath, and waited until he was comfortable.
Then she shot him in the head, and stopped being Tanya Starling.
Perry's latest novel begins arrestingly, and the pace doesn't slow. As the plot unrolls we learn more about Tanya and her past - along the way her patience with those who stand in her way becomes shorter, and so does the length of time she holds on to each new persona, dropping mannerisms, names and physical characteristics to suit her changing circumstances.
The novel switches between focusing on Tanya (once Charlene Buckner), as she flees from state to state, killing ever less discriminatingly as she becomes more confined, to the one cop who suspects Dennis was killed by a woman, Portland Detective Catherine Hobbes.
On occasion Perry spends a lot of time describing a character only to kill him off a few pages later, which some readers might find annoying, but which I found contributed to the suspense - I couldn't tell who was disposable as easily as is often the case, which was refreshing. I also enjoyed having two female protagonists when a male fugitive and pursuing law enforcement character are more typical, and I thought the inability of most of the male characters to accept that a woman (especially an attractive young woman) could be a serial killer was interesting.
I wasn't wholly convinced by the premise - Charlene's unquestionably a sociopath, but I was surprised there weren't signs earlier in her life, and her escalation seemed really rapid. I also thought her obsession with Catherine was a little unlikely. The novel wasn't particularly tightly written, so characters vanish and then - sometimes - reemerge a long while later, and the ending was abrupt. All in all not one of Perry's greatest works, certainly not as good as the Jane Whitefield novels, and I'm glad I waited until it was in regular paperback format. But it was still engrossing and I'll definitely read the next one, if the library stock it. - Alex

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