The Old Man by Thomas Perry
The latest novel by perennial favorite Thomas Perry is exactly what we’ve come to expect from him. A tense, fast paced chase, as the protagonist runs desperately to stay out of the hands of deadly pursuers.
In this case, the details of the situation are far fetched, and in parts, unbelievable. Not that it matters a great deal, because we are interested in the twists and turns of the chase, the clever tricks, and close escapes. We don’t care that the supposed reasons and rationale for the chase makes no sense. In the back of our minds we suspect that there must be more to the story, and that just ups the tension.
As in most of Perry’s stories, there is some violence, though in this case he takes great care that his protagonist never kills anyone who doesn’t try to kill him, and minimizes harm to other.
There is also a lot of fiddling around with fake identities, false papers, money laundering, and so on. These are classic themes from Perry, though in recent years he has taken care to not describe methods that you could copy. In fact if you copy the things you read here, you’ll be picked up by the cops in an hour. He also left out information about how you really launder money and communicate secretly over the internet.
In this story, Perry also is a pains to point out just how effective police surveillance can be. All the fake drivers license in the world won’t help you when you license plate is automatically captured by a dozen cameras every hour. And your mobile devices and internet activity are probably scanned, so it is pretty difficult to do any kind of normal business. You have to go way off the grid to really disappear, and your money really can’t disappear, ever.
My own suspicion is that Perry became worried that his earlier, much more tutorial, stories could tempt people to “try this at home”. To avoid leading people into what could be extreme danger, he has scaled back the details, and emphasizes that these tactics are only to be used in desperation. This is not for fun, nor is it something you should do just to skip out on some minor trouble.
I note that many of the most successful techniques involve preparations that are made decades in advance, establishing alternate identities (and bank accounts) with long histories. In addition, these caches of old money and documents are difficult to spot on the network precisely because their origin is so distant from current use, and preexisted current surveillance technology. The catch is, of course, that this does you little good today, and cobbling together a fake identity will almost certainly be flagged right away.
I’m saying: don’t try this yourself. It won’t work.
If this sounds lame, it really isn’t. Perry is a such a good story teller that we are carried along by the chase, even though many of the specifics are unrealistic. Actually, almost everything is unrealistic.
But I liked it anyway, because the old man is just that good.
- Thomas Perry, The Old Man, New York, The Mysterious Press, 2017.
Sunday Book Reviews