Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Jane Whitefield Returns (Finally)

In a series of five books, published from the mid- to late-1990s, Thomas Perry detailed the adventures of Jane Whitefield, a tough, clever, contemporary Native American woman who lived in western New York. Jane came to the rescue of people who were in serious trouble, guiding them out of their old lives and into new ones. In the process, she almost always had to help her clients to escape from brutal thugs who were hot on the trail. This usually put both Jane and her client in mortal danger and demanded that Jane use all of her wits and considerable physical skills to disable or eliminate the bad guys. Along the way, Jane created a new identity for the client and taught him or her how to survive in a new life.

Jane finally retired, married a doctor, and created a happy, fulfilling new life for herself, flawed only by her inability to conceive a child. Now, five years after her last adventure (nine years in real time), a pregnant young girl turns up at the hospital where Jane's husband works in Buffalo. The girl is looking for Jane, but only knows her maiden name, which the hospital staff does not recognize.

Coincidentally, Jane is heading a fundraiser at the hospital that evening, and in the middle of the soiree, a bomb goes off, interrupting the festivities. Jane and the young girl are thrown together in the confusion and it turns out that the bomb has been set by a team of hunters who have been hired to capture the girl and return her and her baby to the girl's abusive boyfriend and his seriously weird parents.

Naturally, Jane will have to come out of retirement and help the poor woman escape. She quickly discovers that because of technological advances, it's a lot harder--and a lot more expensive--to create a new identity for someone in the post-9/11 era. If that's not bad enough, Jane also discovers that the crew in pursuit of her new client is easily the toughest group of adversaries that she has ever faced.

The result is a book that begins, literally, with a bang and continues to move at a breakneck pace from start to finish. As always, it’s fun to watch Jane work, and it’s particularly interesting to see the details of how she creates a new identity for Christine, the woman she’s assisting. Inevitably, perhaps, Christine will make the exercise a lot more difficult than it otherwise might have been, but this simply means more fun for the reader who gets to watch Jane react to the added threat.

This book does require the suspension of some disbelief. For example, even after being out of the business for several years, Jane seems to have a huge supply of fake identities squirreled away, along with an inexhaustible stash of hundred dollar bills hidden in her basement. Without them, the book would come to a pretty abrupt halt on about page three.

Readers who have waited not-so-patiently for Perry to resurrect Jane Whitefield will be very happy to have her back. But those who’ve never read this series and who have missed all of the backstory might be better off starting with the first book in the series, Vanishing Act, and working their way forward. They won’t be disappointed and, unlike the rest of us, they won’t have to wait nine years to get to Runner.

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