2001-04-26 / Arts & Entertainment

BOOK NEWS New Thomas Perry Thriller

Associated Press Writer
By Linda Ashton
BOOK NEWS New Thomas Perry Thriller By Linda Ashton Associated Press Writer

New Thomas Perry Thriller

Insurance analyst John Walker has been living a life almost as bland as his name. At 24, he’s already feeling rather at home in a cubicle, crunching numbers for a large, family-owned firm in San Francisco.

But all that changes one day at lunchtime in Thomas Perry’s fine new thriller, "Death Benefits" (Random House, 383 pages, $24.95), when Walker believes he’s simply going out to eat with McClaren Life and Casualty’s new security man.

Instead, Walker and the maverick ex-cop-turned-independent-operator, Max Stillman, board a plane for Los Angeles to investigate a $12 million insurance scam and the suspicious disappearance of Walker’s co-worker and former lover.

"The problem with insuring against theft is that you can’t always cover yourself against loss by raising premiums. Once in a great while, you have to leave your cubicle and go convince some actual thieves you won’t put up with it," Stillman tells his new partner.

Despite the deadly escalation of their cross-country collaboration, Walker hangs in there with Stillman, determined to prove the innocence and perhaps reclaim the love of colleague Ellen Snyder.

After a shootout in Florida, a local police officer gives Walker some advice: "You just got into a mess and had to kill somebody to get through it. And you’re in the clear this time: self-defense. If whatever it is you’re doing for McClaren Life and Casualty puts you in a position where you have to spend time doing what Stillman does, you might want to look for another line of work."

The insurance fraud investigation eventually lands Stillman, Walker and a free-spirited computer hacker who sometimes goes by the name of Serena in the deceptively placid town of Coulter, N.H., where the conspiracy takes on proportions the three never imagined.

All along the way, Stillman is there to offer Walker pithy advice about life’s important subjects:

"If the world is turning too fast for you, then careful analysis will tell you that there are a limited number of things you can do about it."

Perry’s literate writing, three-dimensional characters, fresh plotting and spare, sharp dialogue make this book nearly impossible to put down.

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