The Butcher's Boy is an extremely clever and talented professional hit man. He takes a contract to eliminate the officer of a union and a United States senator because both of them are suspicious about the activities of a shady investment firm headquartered in Las Vegas. He cleverly pulls off both jobs in a way that makes one death look like an accident and the other like natural causes.
But the deaths do not escape the notice of Elizabeth Waring who is a smart young analyst in the Justice Department. Elizabeth is studying unusual deaths, looking for a pattern that would suggest the involvement of professional killers, and she sees something that attracts her attention in the death of the union officer.
Although she is an analyst and not a field agent, Elizabeth and her boss are sent out to southern California to take a closer look at the death of the union man. Then, when the senator turns up dead in a hotel room in Denver, they are sent to Colorado to assist in that investigation.
Meanwhile, the Butcher's Boy is headed to Las Vegas to collect the payment due for the services he has rendered. But he runs into unexpected problems, and it soon appears that the men who hired him would rather kill him than pay him.
As the story plays out, we watch as the Butcher's Boy attempts to save both his life and his professional reputation, while Elizabeth sorts through her data, hoping to get a line on the elusive killer. Watching both of them at work is a lot of fun, and Perry is very inventive and creative in the way that developments unfold and in the way in which the two characters, the Butcher's Boy in particular, react and adjust on the fly.
When it first appeared in 1982, this novel won the prestigious Edgar Award for Best First Novel, and deservedly so. It was the first book in what has become a three-book series and was followed by Sleeping Dogs in 1992, and The Informant in 2011. The series thus spans a period of thirty years even though there are only three installments. The Butcher's Boy now reads almost like an historical novel and it's fun watching the character do all kinds of things that one could never get away with in 2015. As an example, just before a flight is to leave the airport, he is still able to race to the ticket counter, pay cash for a ticket using any name he wants, and then race immediately to the plane and board, and no one blinks an eye.
Other such examples abound, and by the time he gets to 2011, the Butcher's Boy is going to have to change his game significantly. But his debut is still a gripping story and great fun to read--a wonderful start to an excellent series and to a very successful career for Thomas Perry, who is perhaps best known as the author of the extremely popular Jane Whitefield series.