I came into Thomas Perry’s trio of thrillers about a hit man known as The Butcher’s Boy in the middle, with the second book, Sleeping Dogs. A review quoted on the cover says, “How can a stone killer read as such an attractive and almost sympathetic character?…Perry’s skill had me rooting for both sides..”
The book was so well done that I immediately went on to read the final book, The Informant, and I have a theory about what makes this professional hit man someone to root for – I think a lot of his attraction is that he’s so good at what he does. In real life it would be hard to ignore the bodies piling up, even if they’re mostly the bodies of criminals, but in the pages of a book it’s fascinating to watch a real artist perform and you can’t help admiring his daring, his problem solving skills, and the sheer inevitability that’s the basis of his formidable reputation.
Perry is able to explain exactly not only how the hit man works, but also how he became such an expert, and it makes sense. As Perry lays it out, there are two types of professional killers available to criminals. They have their own “soldiers”, recruits who work for mob bosses and do their dirty work for them. These are basically hoodlums, who may be strong and violent and able to shoot straight, but have no special training. Then there veterans who were trained by the military and for some reason or other end up selling their services to criminals. As we see in The Informant, the military training isn’t exactly what’s needed on city streets.
But suppose a very good, ex military hit man with the instincts of a teacher recognizes all the qualities required to be outstanding in the profession in an orphaned ten year old boy, and is able to take him in and school him from that time on, just as the Shaolin monks trained boys to be masters of kungfu. You would end up with the butcher’s boy.