It is highly unlikely that an artist like Thomas Perry could write a "bad" novel. But sometimes, even in the best of hands, a novel doesn't turn out the way its creator envisions and I think that is what happened here. "Fidelity", while good, is not up to Perry's usual standard. It is still eminently readable, but lacks the tension that has made so much of Perry's work, like "The Butcher's Boy", so memorable.
Phil Kramer, an old-fashioned private detective who handles undistinguished cases, is shot dead in his car in the middle of the night on a quiet street in the suburbs of Los Angeles.
His widow, Emily is startled to learn that she is virtually penniless because Phil has been consistently withdrawing money from their accounts. The Kramer detective agency has only four people left on the payroll, three detectives and the young, attractive receptionist/secretary.
Poor Emily. Her husband shot dead by person or persons unknown for reasons unkown. Just five years before her teenage son died. But Emily is made of stern stuff: she implores the remaining few people at the agency to stay on and help find Phil Kramer's murderer(s).
Jerry Hobart, the author quickly reveals, is one of the murderers and he is a piece of work. Relentless, merciless, Hobart kills for money nearly all the time and personal reasons some of the time. He is not cheap. But he is surprisingly sentimental, which plays a big part in this story. Shortly after dispatching Phil Kramer, Hobart is given another assignment by his employer: murder Emily Kramer.
Perry weaves a complex tale of love and betrayal, of undiscovered strength and craven weaknesses. Secrets are discovered, other secrets are searched for. The story is so tightly plotted that it would be unfair to give away any of the details, because Perry has a number of suprises tucked away, waiting for the reader.
It is difficult - and it would be unfair - to classify this story in any of the traditional pigeonholes. It is a story of character and characters: Phil and Emily Kramer, the people at the detective agency, Jerry Hobart, the man who employs him to murder and a few other fortunates and unfortunates who stray into the path of these characters.
Perry's storytelling skills are, as usual, excellent. But, alas, these skills cannot overcome a major problem: the inexplicable nature of Jerry Hobart. Hobart is not unlike many other Perry characters: he lives in a world of his own. He isn't crazy: he simply lives by rules entirely his own. It's worked in other Perry novels, but the device falls a bit short here.
It doesn't render the "Fidelity" unreadable or unenjoyable. Far from it. The first-time Perry reader will probably find "Fidelity" excellent. But for those of us who have read Perry's other novels, there is definitely something a bit off in this one. Still enjoyable, but not as taut as his other work.