cover image DEAD AIM


Thomas Perry, . . Random, $24.95 (384pp) ISBN 978-1-4000-6003-0

Though propelled by a tantalizing premise—the investigation of a peculiar suicide—Perry's latest eventually droops under the weight of flat, unengaging characters and predictable plotting. Robert Mallon, a wealthy land developer, has retired early to the gentle climes of Santa Barbara. While he is gazing at the ocean one morning, a young woman, Catherine Broward, calmly walks into the water and disappears under the surf. Mallon rescues her, takes her home, and over the next several hours, the two develop a bond of sorts. Broward won't tell Mallon why she tried to kill herself, but insists she's now OK. The next day, she is found dead in a local park from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Mallon, crushed, wants to know why. He quickly finds several clues—a failed romance, an old murder—yet the most promising lead takes him far into the hills above town, to a self-defense training school, where Broward had spent a month, at great expense, gearing up for some sort of confrontation. On closer inspection, Mallon discovers that the school teaches clients not only how to ward off attackers but how to engage in an ultimate form of excitement—thrill kills. Perry's 13th novel (after the Edgar-winning The Butcher's Boy; etc.) again proves a showcase for his considerable talents—taut prose, finely crafted scenes, solid research. Yet his initially promising plot winds up following the most commonly traveled grooves, concluding with Mallon, hardly a skilled warrior, taking on half a dozen armed, battle-trained killers. It is equally disappointing when, along the way, Perry either kills off or writes out several characters who seem more intriguing than the bland Mallon. Agent, Robert Lescher. 5-city author tour. (Dec. 17)