Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Death Benefits by Thomas Perry

In Death Benefits by Thomas Perry, John Walker is a color-within-the-lines kind of guy who never wanted anything more than stability and respect. He keeps his head down at the upscale insurance company where he works as a data analyst, believing that eventually he’ll move up the ladder, thanks to his hard work and reliability. But one day he gets noticed by insurance investigator Max Stillman, who chooses Walker to accompany him on a fraud investigation. Walker’s life will never be the same.

Stillman didn’t pick Walker out of a hat. Walker’s ex-girlfriend signed off on a life insurance payout to a man claiming to be the only son and sole heir of a rich man, and then she disappeared before the legitimate sole heir showed up. Stillman’s hope is that Walker will lend him insight into the missing woman: was she complicit in the fraud, or was she duped? Might Walker have some idea where she would go?

The plotline becomes slightly ludicrous, but it is fun, with lots of action and odd twists and turns. It’s a cheesy, formulaic action movie just waiting to happen, complete with a smart and gorgeous love-interest spinning her wheels until Walker comes along to impress her. (Spoiler warning: Literally. The character literally walks away from her job and her whole life when he shows up. Unbelievable.)

My favorite part of the book is the relationship that grows between Stillman and Walker, as the roguish older investigator finds in Walker the potential to be more than a lonely workhorse, and Walker unexpectedly finds a mentor in Stillman. (Walker also finds a heretofore undiscovered penchant for fistfights and gunplay. Maybe every insurance agent has an action hero inside him, just waiting to get out.) Perry also has a gift for throwing in the occasional literary description or observation: while they can’t save the plot from its predestined cheesiness, they redeem it somewhat.

Death Benefits is a stand-alone novel. Perry is also the acclaimed author of The Butcher’s Boy series and the Jane Whitefield series, along with many other stand-alone mysteries and thrillers.

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