OF THE SUN is a fantastic work of fiction. You realize this within
the first few sentences, the ones that sink hooks into your brain
with every letter. These letters coalesce into words, sentences and
paragraphs, and before you know it, the night is gone and the book
is done. You’re still on the edge of your seat, and your eyes
are bleary (maybe a little wet, too).
Though this is not David Levien’s first novel, he has been
known primarily as a screenwriter. You may have seen his work on
the film Ocean’s 13, the television show
“Tilt” and a number of other successful projects. None
of what has gone before, however, will prepare you for this stark
tale of good versus evil in its most basic form.
What Levien does is create a perfect modern noir tale around Frank
Behr, a damaged, quietly bent ex-cop turned private detective whose
people skills are somewhat lacking but whose strength and courage
seem inexhaustible. Behr is based in Indianapolis, hardly a city
one thinks of as being a hotbed of danger. But Levien transforms it
into a fearsome locale within a few pages, with one simple yet
horrific act: the disappearance of 12-year-old Jamie Gabriel while
he is on his early morning paper route. The author gives the reader
just enough to know that Jamie is in a very bad, if unknown, place.
Unfortunately his parents, Paul and Carol, don’t even possess
that much knowledge.
With no trace of Jamie more than a year after his abduction, and a
lackluster police investigation, the Gabriels turn to Behr, who
reluctantly agrees to take the case. Still, he informs them that
they must work from the assumption that their son is dead. His
investigative technique is plodding, even boring, and as realistic
as it gets: he waits, makes wrong turns and right moves, good
guesses and bad mistakes.
One thing leads to another. Behr begins with a simple yet ingenious
question, pursues it to the end, and then begins again. And again.
His technique involves much more than kicking over rocks; he is
slower, more deliberate and thoughtful. Since he knows in his own
heart what happened to Jamie, there is no need to rush. His
technique with the unwilling, on the other hand, is worth the price
of admission all by itself. Behr also breaks his own immutable rule
and allows Paul to join him in the investigation, an act that
permits the men to form a solid if initially uneasy bond as they
slowly but doggedly follow a long and deadly trail that leads to
the answer regarding Jamie’s fate.
CITY OF THE SUN is one of those novels that will keep you up for
several nights running. You will read it the first night and then
spend a few more thinking. I can’t wait for Levien’s
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on December 27, 2010