Somebody with a ski mask and a handgun is waiting at the Bank of America night deposit and takes the old man for the cash receipts from his nightclub and his two strip joints. “Nobody does that to Manco Kapak,” he tells himself. Obviously, the robber is new in town, or he'd know better than to mess with Kapak, so he puts his muscle on the job of identifying a newcomer who is spending a lot of cash.
The search turns up a name: Joe Carver - problem being that the robber is really named Jefferson Davis Falkins. None of that means much to LAPD Detective Slosser, who is probably too distracted worrying about how he's going to start putting the eldest children of his two simultaneous marriages through college. Oops: bad planning.
It turns out to be more than a bad week. Kapak’s fortunes seem to be changing: his side business - a bit of money-laundering for a Mexican narcotraficante - goes south about that same time, though he does pick up a little “strange” on the side from a strip club waitress. And so the story goes: Carver, peeved at Kapak, decides to lean on his crew; the real robber picks up a wild-‘n’-crazy girlfriend who wants to rob Kapak again (and again); Slosser figures out how to get the goods on Kapak; and Kapak’s crew decides that maybe the old man’s luck had run out.
But Manco Kapak is nobody’s fool. He's figured out a solution - maybe.
Thomas Perry’s 2010 novel Strip reads pretty much like an Elmore Leonard version of The Gang that Couldn’t Shoot Straight. It comes with the same sensibilities, the same off-kilter cast of characters, and the same undercurrent of ineptitude: Kapak’s crew of bodyguard/muscle spends 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 Perry has never been one to craft heroes with lily-white souls (his Jane Whitefield has put down more bad guys than Spenser, though not Hawk), Strip is long on villains and short on heroes. Yet, while Carver is no shrinking violet - and neither is Kapak - their antics pale alongside the adrenaline-junkie stylings of Falkins’ new girlfriend, Carrie. As you get deeper into Strip, you figure out that everyone – and I mean EVERYone – has an angle. Some are funny, some are sly, some are stupid, and some are just plain calculating – but everyone has an angle.
Some of Perry’s characters are more successful in their geometric machinations than others – if that’s what makes a hero, then you can probably identify one within the book’s pages. A lack of good guys is where the similarity to Elmore Leonard is strongest, though, so if you like your heroes moral (even if a bit flawed), you’re out of luck.