The guy wearing a ski mask and brandishing a handgun had been waiting at the Bank of America night deposit, and he took the old man for the night's receipts from his dance club and the strip clubs Siren and Temptress. "Nobody robs Manco Kapak," the victim announced to his minions, and then sent his muscle out on the street. Obviously, the robber was new in town or he would've known better than mess with the mad Hungarian, so he put told his crew to put the word out that they were looking for a newcomer spending lots of cash.
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The "canvas" produced the name of Joe Carver, newly-arrived from the east coast, who'd been showing pretty girls a nice time while flashing a fat roll of bills. The chief problem with identifying Carver was that the robber was in reality somebody else; some dude with a hot TransAm and carrying around the name Jefferson Davis Falkins. None of that meant much to LAPD Detective Slosser, who was too distracted worrying about how he was going to start putting the eldest children of his two simultaneous marriages through college. I guess you could call that "bad (multi)family planning."
It turned out to be more than just one bad night for Manco Kapak. Even though he did pick up a little "strange" on the side from a strip club waitress, his luck still seemed to be changing. Hiis side business, a small money-laundering operation for a local narcotraficante, started going south right about that same time. And so the effects of one lte-night stick-up rippled through a whole set of unrelated lives: Carver, peeved at Kapak for his mistake, decided to lean on the old man's crew; the real robber picked up a wild-‘n'-crazy girlfriend who wanted to rob Kapak again (and again); Kapak's crew decided that maybe the old man's luck had run out; and Detective Slosser figured out how to get the goods on Kapak.
But Manco Kapak's Mama didn't raise no fool: he figured out the solution... maybe...
You could make the case that Thomas Perry's 2010 novel Strip reads like Elmore Leonard's version of The Gang that Couldn't Shoot Straight. It features the same sensibilities, the same undercurrent of ineptitude, and the same off-kilter cast of characters. Kapak's gaggle of bodyguard/muscle aren't a compendium of the drawer's sharpest knives; quite the contrarry: they spend more time getting shot at (and shot) than they do muscling folks. When we first meet them, they're in the process of getting a couple of Hummers destroyed, courtesy of their quarry Carver. While the ski-masked robber Falkins isn't your typical idiot criminal, he has a distressing tendency to let... ummmm, the "little head make decisions while the big head is preoccupied."
Thomas Perry has never been a writer whose heroes are equipped with lily-white souls: his sometime protagonist Jane Whitefield (Runner, Vanishing Act) has put away more bad guys than Robert' Parker's Spenser (though probably not more than Hawk). So it comes as no surprise that Strip is long on villains and short on heroes. Perhaps in a nod to a society whose youth find risk-taking addictive, Perry's young characters are quite different from their elder compatriots. While Carver's certainly no shrinking violet and neither is Kapak, their antics pale alongside the adrenaline-junkie stylings of Falkins' new girlfriend, Carrie.
There is, however, commonality: as you get deeper into Strip, you figure out that everyone is working his (or her) own angle. Some of the inhabitants of Manco Kapak's world are funny, some are sly, some are stupid, and some are just plain calculating - but everyone out there has an angle. A few of Strip's characters are more successful in their trigonometric machinations than others. If that's what you feel defines a hero, then you can probably identify one somewhere within the book's pages. The consistent lack of good guys is where this version of Perry's similarity to Elmore Leonard is strongest though, so if you like your heroes moral (even if a bit flawed), you're out of luck. Me, I like heroes, flawed or not. I don't much like Leonard, though, and I'm on the fence about this version of Perry.
An earlier, not very similar, version © 2011 for curledup.com by Rex Allen