Sunday, May 15, 2011

"The Informant"

Thomas Perry is the author of the Jane Whitefield series as well as the best-selling novels Strip, Runner, Fidelity, Silence, Nightlife, Death Benefits, and Pursuit. He won the Edgar Award for The Butcher's Boy, and Metzger's Dog was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Informant, and reported the following:
Once again, it's time for the page 69 test. I'm pretty lucky this year with The Informant. Page 69 is representative of the book, and it also contains some crucial dialogue.

Page 69 opens with "The Butcher's Boy," Michael Schaeffer, holding a gun on an old gangster named Mike Cavalli, who tells him that the up-and-coming Mafia chief Frank Tosca has asked the other Mafia leaders to "make him their problem." How does Tosca know that Schaeffer won't win?
"You've taken on too much importance for that. You're a symbol, like the Thanksgiving turkey. Whether you like it or not, this is going to be a celebration, and you're the guest of honor. Frank Tosca is the first young, strong, smart leader the families have produced in years. He's like all our grandfathers--crazy-ambitious, strong, tough. He's acting just like them. If he can get the Balacontano family under his control, the rest will start to turn to him too. There are people who have been waiting for this for a long, long time. It'll be like turning the calendar back, so La Cosa Nostra is young again. Everybody wants that. But first, he needs you dead."
That is a concise description of the predicament that Schaeffer faces throughout the novel. After hunting him for twenty years, the Balacontano faction has finally found him living in England and tried to kill him. Now he's back in the U.S. trying to make that a very costly plan. But once here, he learns his death has become more important than he is. It's an almost ceremonial step in an ambitious plan to revitalize the Mafia.

Next Cavalli says something that's another continuing theme in the book. When this vendetta started, Schaeffer was about thirty, and Cavalli slightly older. That was a long time ago. Schaeffer may still be the consummate killer, but even he "lives in time."
"I can tell you from experience that every year you slow down--you lose a step here and there. Your reactions aren't as fast, and pretty soon it feels like you're always walking on sand or deep snow instead of sidewalk. Then one day, you notice that your hearing and vision are a little worse too. Pretty soon, it's not so hard for somebody to come up behind you, the way you did to me tonight. They wouldn't have gotten you easily when you were a kid. But you're not a kid now."
Schaeffer lets Cavalli live, asking him to tell Frank Tosca he wants to talk to him. But at the bottom of the page, as he backs out, he sees Cavalli's reflection on the darkened television screen, shifting in his chair to pull out a gun to shoot him in the back. Cavalli's act, accepting Schaeffer's mercy and then, seconds later, trying to get rich by killing him, is all we need to know about the Mafia. It's all guile masking greed and violence.
Read an excerpt from The Informant.

Visit Thomas Perry's website and Facebook page.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue