My first finished book of 2020 is Thomas H. Cook’s 2004 novel Peril. Unlike most of the other books I’ve read by Cook, which have generally focused on one narrator, Peril lets the reader see the same set of circumstances through a variety of lenses.
Sara Labriola is hoping to disappear. After nine years of marriage to Tony, she can’t go on and so one day she packs her clothes, leaves her wedding ring and takes the bus into Manhattan.
Tony is devastated when he discovers Sara missing, but his father, Leo, is furious. Leo is a thug who berates everyone around him, including Tony who has never had the nerve to stand up to him. Leo tells his guy Caruso to find Sara and Caruso leverages the help of Mortimer Dodge because he owes Leo money. Dodge works for a guy named Stark, a guy whose job it is to find people.
Need a chart yet? Let’s recap.
Sara runs away from Tony.
Tony wants to find his wife before his father does because he knows that if Leo finds her first the consequences will be grim. He tasks his employee and friend Eddie with helping him.
Leo gets Caruso on the job. Caruso gets Mortimer on the job. Mortimer gets Stark on the job.
Sara is in NY and thinks she has found a job singing in a night club owned by Abe, who happens to know Mortimer.
It all sounds way more complicated than it is and it’s actually way more compelling than this, too, and that’s because, well, Thomas H. Cook wrote it.
You know how you can read some thrillers or mysteries and they’re just straight ahead books that are driven by plot but not much else? Yeah, that’s not Cook. There is not a character in this novel who doesn’t have a totally believable backstory that makes them, even when they are not particularly likeable, sympathetic. (The exception here is Leo Labriola, who is a misogynistic asshat.) And I mean every character, even characters we only meet a couple times, like the mother of Sara’s neighbour, Della.
And if you think all this backstory is going to bog down the plot – which would be bad, too – forget about it. You’ll turn the pages lickety-split because, well, Thomas H. Cook. He balances character and story and even if some of what happens here seems a tad too coincidental, you won’t care. At all.
There’s something old school about Peril. It’s like a noir film, peopled with shadowy gangsters in crumpled hats, a beautiful, fragile heroine who earns the good will of the men she meets, and a bunch of guys who ultimately, turn out to be loyal and decent.
You will NEVER be wasting your time reading a Cook book. (Couldn’t resist.)