The Butcher's Boy

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This article is about the novel The Butcher's Boy. For the folk ballad of the same name, see The Butcher Boy (folk song).
First edition cover (Scribner)

The Butcher’s Boy is American novelist Thomas Perry's first novel, published in 1982. The suspense novel won the 1983 Edgar Award for Best First Mystery Novel (American). The work has been reprinted several times, and was followed by two more "Butcher's Boy" novels in the series, Sleeping Dogs (1992) [1] and The Informant (2011).[2]


The Butcher's Boy features a consummate professional hitman as primary protagonist. Murder is a craft for the "Butcher’s Boy," a reference to the man's foster father, "Eddie the Butcher," who raised him in two trades, the cold-blooded killer with a gimlet eye, and an actual butcher for a cover. After dispatching an innocent union employee and a U.S. Senator, he arrives in Las Vegas, Nevada to pick up his fee. Instead of a payoff he finds himself on the other end of the order to kill. His reputation as a consummate professional killer has always ensured he would be paid, even by men who think no more about murder than scratching an itch. Now he brings that scenario to life as he seeks to collect the debt by terrorizing the Mafia—lifelong source of his freelance jobs and current nemesis—into backing off.

Meanwhile, the initial hits completed by "The Butcher's Boy" have attracted the attention of U.S. government specialists on organized crime. Elizabeth Waring, a bright young, single analyst in the Justice Department, begins to see a pattern in the killings. As the violence escalates around the United States, her colleagues and superiors suspect internecine warfare, though Waring deduces the fact that one man on a mission may be the key. As she works her way closer to his identity, she and the reader come to admire his audacity and remorseless, creative efficiency in staying one step ahead of the Mob's death sentence.

The point of view switches back and forth between Waring and the killer, whom readers come to root for as the ultimate David to the Goliath of organized crime. Most critics reported that readers hope the "Butcher's Boy" will succeed in evading both his Mafia pursuers and the government agents. And indeed he does, only to find himself in similar circumstances one and then two decades later in "Sleeping Dogs" and "The Informant," where both he and Waring have also aged historically, and share exclusively the knowledge and context of the earlier stories. Together the trilogy makes for a brilliant virtuoso fugue on the concepts of predator/prey, the affinity between detectives and killers, and the greater morality of what a true survivalist might be like, at the top of his game.

Perry has gone on to a prize-filled career as a consummate crime writer with a score of eclectic novels, another irresistible, unique protagonist named Jane Whitefield, and the reputation as a "capo di tutti capi" of crime writers. Fans hope he will still be interested in writing a fourth installment around 2020 (when "Michael Shaeffer" will be in his 60s, and Elizabeth Waring's kids will be out of college) if not sooner.

Publication information[edit]