Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Listen, dame, I will solve the crime...

once I am done sipping my bourbon, staring out the window, driving around town really fast, doing pushups, and walking in the rain. Okay?

Frank Behr is a man. A man with a past. An ex-cop who wrestles with his demons, inability to set aside a case, and the toll its taking on 1) interpersonal relationships, 2) eating habits, and 3) propensity for getting beaten up.

Where the Dead Lay has pretty much every tortured-cop cliche down. Behr's got an ex-wife, a personal tragedy, a nascent drinking problem, a fractured relationship with his current squeeze, Susan, and his Brazilian jiu jitsu teacher Aurelios Santos just got splattered on the gym mat. Behr, a PI on the wrong side of forty (which is the right side? I'm going to start telling people I'm on the underside of thirty) who nonetheless keeps it real and takes it to the streets, sometimes stepping it up or bringing it on, is determined to find out who killed Santos.

Behr's quest takes him back to the police department, to a private security firm, and into a crime family that's like something from The Hills Have Eyes, but transplanted to the grimy 'burbs of Indianapolis and armed with shotguns and baseball bats.

Levien has a good eye for criminals-his perps aren't particularly smart or put-together, they're dumb and cruel enough to be believable, and murder scenes are gritty enough to make your stomach clench. Behr's just not that compelling, and that makes the book feel kind of hollow (Levien's dig at the Marines in the final pages is kind of weird too). But it's snappily written, the villains are scum and it's satisfying to see Behr get his guys and solve the case, and you get to take a little tour of the notorious pea-shake houses of outer Indianapolis, which I had no idea existed, having never been to Indianapolis or had a gambling habit. The plot doesn't really throw anything at you that you weren't expecting, and it's pretty clear that the characters who matter will make it to the end, so it's sort of like pretty much every cop movie ever made. But it'd made a good beach read and most readers can get through it in one sitting. Think of it as the Big Mac of crime novels. Predictable but filling.

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