Review

Where the Dead Lay

by David Levien

If I could take copies of WHERE THE DEAD LAY, the new Frank Behr
novel by David Levien, and thrust one into the hands of every fan
of noir fiction I know, I would do it. As he did with the amazing
CITY OF THE SUN, Levien has taken Indianapolis --- a city with a
benign, even ho-hum reputation --- and cast a light on its
dark-alley underbelly by taking his readers on a tour of those
places where the buses don’t run. Behr, a former Indianapolis
cop turned private investigator, is the tour guide; he is a deeply
troubled man who tiptoes around the edge of his own sanity even as
circumstances seem to constantly conspire to push him over the
edge.

Within the first few pages of WHERE THE DEAD LAY, Behr finds
that Aurelio Santos, his friend and martial arts mentor, has been
brutally and senselessly murdered. Behr is obsessed almost as much
with the “why” of the murder as with the
“who,” given that Santos appeared to have no real
enemies, at least none capable of killing him. Behr attempts to
clear the decks of his PI work in order to devote his full
attention to his friend’s death. However, circumstances
conspire against him. A high-powered investigation firm with a
national reputation wants to retain Behr for the purpose of
determining the fate of two of its operatives who have suddenly
gone missing. Behr initially declines, at least until he receives
some encouragement from an unexpected source: Captain Pomeroy of
the Indianapolis P.D., Behr’s former boss and the man who
holds the keys to his potential reinstatement on the force.

Behr’s involvement in the case draws him slowly but
steadily into the path of the Schlegels, a chilling family of
criminals comprised of a father and three sons who combine a brutal
intelligence with an animal cunning and a casual cruelty. It is
Terry, the father, who has a plan to take over a segment of illicit
activity in the vacant houses of the back streets of Indianapolis
and who utilizes his sons as the instrumentality to make it happen,
all from the interior of their bar, a quasi-legitimate business
where any threat is laid to rest quickly and explosively. Unknown
to Terry, two of his sons have an independent entrepreneurial
inclination that will have the potential to either make the
Schlegels extremely wealthy or tear them apart. And as Behr’s
sights begin to close in on the Schlegels, he realizes that he is
working not two cases, but one.

David Levien is a marvel. His dialogue is straight-up, so street
that it’s a wonder the pages aren’t coated with grit.
His descriptions are true to life, real and unflinching, a
combination of Mickey Spillane, Wallace Stroby and Richard Stark,
but nonetheless all Levien. And Behr is as real a dead-end,
conflicted character as you are likely to find. Those who read the
critically acclaimed CITY OF THE SUN will find even more to love in
this unflinching yet roughly poetic account of street-level bangers
who are off the radar of most people yet who hover just around the
corner.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 24, 2011

Where the Dead Lay
by David Levien

  • Publication Date: June 22, 2010
  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • Mass Market Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor
  • ISBN-10: 0307387216
  • ISBN-13: 9780307387219