What's a Common Reader -- and what is Uncommon Reading?

Virginia Woolf defined a common reader as someone who is not a scholar; not a critic. A common reader "reads for his own pleasure rather than to impart knowledge or correct the opinions of others. Above all, he is guided by an instinct to create for himself, out of whatever odds and ends he can come by, some kind of whole." By that definition, I'm definitely a common reader -- reading an uncommonly large and diverse collection of books.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Books to Help Beat the Heat: "The Informant" by Thomas Perry

    When the weather is hot and muggy and your brain feels too sluggish to focus on the literary classics or the latest prize-winning novels that you know you should be reading, it's time to turn to one of those books often referred to as "beach reads". They're not really that challenging -- the plots are easy to follow, the characters have relatively simple and straightforward motivations, and the story is action all the way, whether it's a chick lit romance or a suspense thriller. The Informant by Thomas Perry falls squarely into the latter category, and while it's not likely to linger in your memory for its deathless prose or pitch-perfect characterizations, you'll certainly forget the fact that your airconditioner is on the blink and your sunburn is making you feel as if you've been sizzling on a griddle as you follow retired hit man Michael Schaeffer as he tries to convince a recalcitrant bunch of Mafia dons that he really is retired, and has no interest in their ongoing turf battles. The problem is, the mob doesn't believe him, and won't let him live in peace with his aristocratic English wife in their rural mansion. So, Schaeffer heads back to the United States, and mayhem ensues.
    The story is adequate -- lots of chases, lots of glimpses inside the mind of the "Butcher's Boy" (who has featured in two other Perry novels) as he meticulously plots his actions and out-thinks his enemies -- and lots of bodies piling up. That trail of corpses piques the curiosity of Elizabeth Waring, a Justice Department investigator who has encountered "Schaeffer" before -- and she becomes still more intent on using the former hit man to rein in the mob when he appears in her home in the middle of the night, not to murder her, but to try and figure out what's going on. Before long, Waring is trapped in a bureaucratic nightmare, trying to co-opt Schaeffer as an informant and stop him from following what he considers to be the logical path to protect himself -- killing anyone who might be a threat. Sure, there are plenty of holes in this kind of plot, and you'll need to put your skepticism on hold while you read, but being skeptical and critical takes a lot of energy in the hot weather, doesn't it?
    I've read the prior novel in this series, and while it's fun to see how Perry's characters formulate their plans and act on them to outwit the law, I still prefer reading about someone who does it for a good reason, like Jane Whitfield, the heroine of Perry's other series. She's half-Seneca Indian, and uses tribal lore and 20th/21st century smarts to help innocent people in peril of their lives get to a place of safety and build new lives -- she's a guide, of sorts. Needless to say, each time she does this life gets more complicated than she imagines and to keep her charges safe, she goes to extraordinary lengths. While The Informant is an entertaining if rather violent (in a matter-of-fact way) suspense novel, the Jane Whitfield books (which include titles like Dance for the Dead, Vanishing Act and Blood Money) are much, much better -- great suspense reads at any time of the year. Some of his stand-alone books are also well worth looking for, notably Death Benefits. Try those first, then if you like Perry's style, it's time to take a look at this 3.7 star book.

Full disclosure: I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley.

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