Thomas Perry has written a wonderful series of thrillers featuring Jane Whitefield, a woman who helps people who need to disappear disappear. In Perry's new stand-alone thriller, The Old Man, Dan Chase made himself disappear thirty years before the story begins. He's sixty years old, a widower, father of an adult daughter, living a quiet life in a Vermont town on the New Hampshire border.
"I like big dogs," he said. "They're calmer and quieter. It's scared dogs that bite."
"I don't know," she said. "You really want to have two animals that could kill you? You're—"
"An old man. A stiff breeze could kill me."
"You know what I mean."
"I do," he said. "It's just another reason to make sure they never want to."
This exchange on page 3 is the first dialogue in the book and it accomplishes a lot: Introduces the dogs, says something about Chase, about his daughter, and about their relationship, and introduces the thought that something (someone?) might kill him.
By the end of Chapter 1, two hired assassins have tried to kill him and it's clear he will have to disappear again.
What makes Perry such a satisfying writer is that every major character has a very clear 'I want'. Chase wants to survive. The people chasing him want to kill him. The character he has to kidnap midway through the book has a solid reason not to escape from Chase when given the chance.
The other satisfying element is the information Perry provides. We learn the mechanics of dumping a hot car, of creating an alternate identity (it'll take time if you want to try it), of blending in, of destroying your trail, of where to hide out.
Chase's challenge to stay alive is complicated by the fact that an element of the US Government (the CIA? NSA? the Defense Intelligence Agency?) are cooperating with a middle-Eastern political figure who has good reasons for wanting Chase dead. The spooks are helping because they believe Chase as an agent stole $20 million thirty years earlier. So another one of the questions Perry answers is: How do you hide $20 million in cash without drawing attention to yourself? (Good to know.)
I hope the snippet of dialogue I quoted above suggests Perry's craft. Indeed, I believe that anyone who aspires to write a thriller could profitably study The Old Man to take it apart scene by scene to see how Perry reveals character, builds tension, paces developments. For everyone else, the craft—in the description, action, dialogue, plot, and exposition—is on the page to enjoy.