I thought going into this book that I had read at least the first of Perry's previous two Jane Whitefield books, but maybe not. References to events that took place in the book just before this one didn't ring any bells, in any case, so some of the back story in Shadow Woman
was a little unclear, but that ended up not mattering too much. (I'll definitely be going back and filling in the gaps before too long.)
Jane is a guide, a freelance "one-woman witness protection program" who helps people disappear, stay alive, and start new lives: a woman escaping a violent relationship; a child being spirited away from an abusive homelife; men and women who have crossed paths with some criminal enterprise or shadowy mega-corporation that subsequently wants them dead. Her services have become near-mythical - she never knows when someone is going to track her down by way of a rumor, or a slip of paper bearing her name and number that has been passed on from a friend of a friend of a friend, and need her help.
Jane is a member of the Seneca nation and was raised with a good deal of traditional lore and practices -- for instance, she offers gifts of tobacco and corn to nature spirits at a favorite lake as a way of thanking them for her survival and success, and reflects on the similarities and differences in how her ancestors might have reacted to the obstacles she encounters. A couple of reviews I've read have implied that she uses "native skills" to avoid pursuit or get away from someone on her trail, but that suggests she's some sort of wilderness survival savant, a throwback to the 18th or 19th century, which she's not: Jane lives very much in the modern age and understands the workings of law enforcement, national databases, cell phones, and other 21st century facts of life. Her skills rely on a learned mindset required by the work, not something she was taught in her upbringing or inherited from her native father. Her heritage informs how she chooses to live, rather than offering some sort of mystical, primeval advantage in evading the bad guys. In Shadow Woman
, she's also trying to navigate how to have a romantic relationship when she's regularly placed in mortal danger - and how to explain to the man she loves exactly what it is she does for a living - not to mention the inconvenience of having complete strangers drop in without notice, in need of rescue.
Perry's books are a joy to read -- his first, The Butcher's Boy
won the Edgar Award for Best First Novel -- with shades-of-gray protagonists, complex but not bewildering plot twists, and glimpses of a dark underbelly of society that his readers probably hope never to encounter in real life. (One has to wonder what his story is, given the plethora of scary types who populate his books.) Jane's world is an unfamiliar place - she's more sympathetic than many of Perry's lead characters, though, and a good place to start. Vanishing Act
is the first Jane Whitefield story, followed by Dance for the Dead
, Shadow Woman
, The Face-Changers
, Blood Money
, and the most recent, Runner