Thursday, April 24, 2008

City of the Sun by David Levien

Publisher: Bantam Press, 2008
ISBN: 978 0 593 05932 6
Pages: 310

Opening sentence: Jamie Gabriel wakes at 5:44, as the clock radio's volume bursts from the silence.

Early one morning 12 year old Jamie Gabriel sets out on his paper round in suburban Indianapolis, and never returns. No trace of him or his bicycle is ever found. The police, believing Jamie is just another runaway, conduct a rather half-hearted investigation.

Fourteen months later his parents, Paul and Carol, their marriage crumbling under the strain, make one last desperate attempt at finding what happened to their son. They hire private investigator, Frank Behr, a tough ex-cop struggling with his own difficult past. Reluctant at first to take on such a seemingly hopeless case, Behr finds the parent’s quiet desperation touches on his own personal pain.

The case takes Behr into the murky world of child prostitution and as he starts making connections between Jamie’s disappearance and some very nasty criminals, he becomes a target himself. But even as the bodies start piling up, Behr just can’t let go.

Jamie’s father, Paul, frustrated by his feelings of helplessness, insists on being involved in the investigation. Against his better judgement, Behr allows Paul to accompany him as he follows leads and interviews contacts. During the longs hours of surveillance, they form an unlikely bond. The moments they share on surveillance and on the road chasing down their quarry are particularly poignant and were a highlight of the book.

Frank Behr could have simply been your typical macho loner PI, ex-cop, broken marriage, drinking problems, and this is certainly how he appeared at first, but he turned out to be so much more. As the case progressed and the layers of his past were uncovered, he was revealed as an interesting and complex character.

The plot is not without faults, for example, it’s hard to believe the police were so incompetent as to not investigate a very obvious early line of inquiry. However, this didn’t detract to any great extant from my overall enjoyment of this book. City of the Sun is not just a good fast-paced thriller, it’s also a book about pain and loss, and sometimes quite raw emotion.

David Levien is a screenwriter, with credits for Oceans Thirteen, Runaway Jury, Rounders and others. This is his first novel.

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