“Forty Thieves” by Thomas Perry is a stand-alone novel that starts out like an ordinary mystery book, in which a man named James Ballantine is killed and his body found in the sewer.
However, the twist is in the investigators. Instead of having a team of detectives, or even a special “high-functioning sociopath” like Sherlock Holmes, there are two teams, or couples, both hired to solve a case that’s turning cold.
The first couple consists of two retired private detectives, Sid and Veronica “Ronnie” Abel, who both used to work for the Los Angeles Police Department. The second couple is practically the opposite. They’re Ed and Nicole Hoyt, two young and agile characters who seem to enjoy living life to the fullest and challenging themselves every possible way. Why? Because they are assassins-for-hire.
While reading, I first assumed that the Hoyts and the Abels were working together on this case. But in reality, the Hoyts are hired to stop the Abels from figuring out who killed Ballantine. Basically, someone wants the Abels dead, and the Hoyts have to do the job.
So where do the “forty thieves” alluded in the title come in? Well, as Perry weaves this story, the pace gets faster and faster, stronger and stronger, like the acceleration of a beating heart. “The Hoyts must be close to finding out killer!” the reader thinks … Until there’s a sudden stop.
Out spills the tragic story of a group of Eastern European diamond robbers who went from rags to riches. They had planned on retiring in California, with sunshine and smiles all year round and freedom from the European police, only to have their newfound peace rocked by the broadcast of Ballantine’s murder. Somehow, this group of people is connected to Ballantine, the Hoyts, and the Abels, but how?
Perry richly develops the exposition with many details and hints that keep the reader guessing at what’s to come. Between the thrills of this intense chase, there are also numerous flashbacks, which help the reader piece together the characters’ pasts.
Moreover, Perry persuades the reader to sympathize with the witty and lovable characters that he creates. He can even make the antagonists seem worthy of support in certain scenes, which is not an easy feat.
One high point of this book is that it’s narrated by both the Abels and Hoyts at different times throughout the story, maintaining balance. Whenever you get the feeling that the Hoyts are up to something, you turn the page and amazingly, the next few chapters are narrated from their point of view, and vice versa. Perry has an acute sense of rhythm and pace, and he knows when and where to stop and change perspectives, keeping the story fresh and interesting.
On the other hand, the supporting characters could be improved. Many times, everything about them is said outright, instead of subtly hinted or concealed. No secrets are kept or hidden from the detectives, which makes this chase a lot easier than it could be.
“Forty Thieves” is fast-paced read with a nice spoonful of humor, but it lacks the sense of secrecy common to mystery books. Nevertheless, Perry skillfully plants ideas and doubts in the reader’s mind before revealing the final truth.
Sharon Luo is a freshman at Williamsville East High School.