BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Boyfriend’

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THE BOYFRIEND
By Thomas Perry
Mysterious Press, $25, 288 pages

If you are curious to find out how a professional hit man learns his trade, this is the book for you.

Thomas Perry has clearly devoted considerable research to the creation of this gripping account of the short and vicious life of Joey Moreland, who kills for profit and without a shred of pity. He meets his match in Jack Till, a former homicide detective turned private investigator who is equally painstaking in developing his methods of tracking down a killer.

What makes the hit man a difficult case is his talent for setting up a relationship with escort girls he finds on the Internet. A good-looking man, he is successful in persuading them to accept him as a friend as well as a lover, and moves into their apartments. That is, until it is time to put a bullet in their heads so that they cannot identify him.

Moreland has to maintain anonymity so that he can move on to his next well-paid killing, and he goes to the trouble of cleaning any sign of his presence from his victim’s apartment, as well as robbing them of the cash they keep hidden at home. Moreland has been trained by a veteran hit man called Holcomb, who pays him $1,000 a week for three months of intensive training in the dark art of murder for hire. Moreland showed an aptitude for killing as a teenager when he shot the boyfriend of the young woman with whom he fell in love after she seduced him.

As a hit man, he has an easy target in the beautiful and vulnerable call girls who repose fatal trust in him as a solace in their often lonely lives. When Holcomb is killed on one of the assignments, Moreland takes over, controlled by a man known as The Broker, who sends out killers in response to requests from those with enough to pay for their services. The money is substantial at $50,000 and up, yet after a year or two, Moreland realizes it can’t go on forever.

He needs enough cash to cut back on killing, and it is at this point he discovers he is being pursued by Till, who is as meticulous in his work as Moreland. Till is a retired homicide detective who has built a solid living as an investigator, partly because of his extreme caution in operation. He uses his former friends in law enforcement around the country to obtain information that helps him search for criminals, and this proves especially useful with Moreland when Till realizes the link with call girls advertising on the Internet. Till has been hired by the parents of an escort girl who became a Moreland victim. They had no idea what she did for a living but they want her avenged and Till is the man to do it.

The strength of the psychological drama lies in Mr. Perry’s capacity to develop his characters. Both Moreland and Till are tough, perhaps more than a match for each other, and the hit man who has been dubbed “the boyfriend” because of his affairs with call girls is aware of with whom he is dealing.

Moreland’s successful run of death comes to an end when he overdoes a killing involving a high-ranking Mexican official, whom he blows up with a powerful military gun. Those who paid considerable money for the killing are infuriated by the publicity it generates and the consequent danger to their anonymity. Killers turn on the killer, and Moreland finds himself on the run, acquiring another young woman along the way. However, Till is closing in, and the denouement is appropriately violent.

As in his other books involving saving someone by helping them disappear from danger, the author shows restraint in his plotting. He offers fascinating detail on the mindsets and well-honed skills of men like Moreland and Till, from their background to their training in firearms and physical fitness. They are tough, almost indestructible creatures with somewhat similar characteristics that have taken them in different directions.

There is little of the romantic about either man. While Till goes so far as to contemplate whether he should become interested in a woman who helps care for his daughter, Moreland is never distracted from his goals.

Moreland’s interest in women lies solely in whether they can be of use in his work. Sleeping with them is quite incidental, and shooting them is part of the game. Mr. Perry has turned out another riveting mystery, ideal reading for travel.

Muriel Dobbin is a former White House and national political reporter for McClatchy newspapers and The Baltimore Sun.

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