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The Burglar by Thomas Perry

Published by Grove Atlantic/The Mysterious Press on January 8, 2019

Elle Stowell is 24 and, as the novel’s title suggests, a burglar. She enters homes in places like Bel Air and departs with jewels and other things that are small and worth stealing. While committing her most recent burglary, however, she discovers three dead bodies on a king size bed, each with a bullet hole in the head. A camera conveniently recorded the murders. Fearing that it might also have recorded her, Elle steals the camera, but her conscience forces her to return it after erasing the footage in which she appears.

Elle soon finds herself being chased, stalked, and attacked by a variety of strangers. She decides, for reasons that turn out to be plausible, that she should investigate the murders as a way of protecting herself. Her investigation (which relies heavily on her ability to break into buildings) leads her to uncover a criminal scheme that, while unlikely, is at least creative.

In the novel’s most bothersome scene, Elle eavesdrops on a conversation in which a criminal explains details of the scheme to another criminal who already knows those details, for no good reason other than to educate Elle (and the reader). That’s a poor writing technique, although it’s common enough among authors of B-level thrillers. Thomas Perry knows that the criminal has no need to impart information that the other criminal already has, but tries to cover that up by suggesting that the explanation amounts to “stalling” despite the absence of any clear reason to stall. The situation that leads to the explanation is plainly contrived to allow Elle (and the reader) to learn details that are central to resolving the plot. I didn’t buy the contrivance — nor did I buy that the criminals waited to reveal important information until after Elle returned from two breaks she had to take during her eavesdropping — but that’s my only large gripe about The Burglar.

Other gripes: Elle is likable enough but has little depth; the other characters have none at all. Perry’s writing style has little style; it is straightforward to the point of being sterile. Perry is very much a Joe Friday, “just the facts” writer. That kind of writing can be effective when a writer knows how to jazz up the prose, but Perry has never managed to elevate his game.

Still, Perry often conjures up a decent plot and he does that again in The Burglar. The story moves quickly and the breaking-and-entering scenes create enough tension to keep the reader engaged. As is often true of a Thomas Perry novel, the positives outweigh the negatives, but not by much.


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