I wasn’t too sure about this book after reading the first two chapters, which describe in present tense the disappearance of a young teenage boy, Jamie, while on his early morning paper round in his neighbourhood suburb of Indianapolis. But from the moment I started chapter three, with the header “14 months later” I was hooked on this exciting yet thoughtful and well-plotted novel.
After 14 months, the police investigation into the boy’s disappearance has gone nowhere and Jamie’s parents, Mr and Mrs Average American suburban couple Carol and Paul, have sunk into apathetic misery after spending day after week after month handing out buttons and photos of Jamie, joining support groups, surfing the internet and doing all they know to try to find their only son. They go to the police station in a routine follow-up visit and realise that the police have not done anything active for months to look for the boy. Carol is devastated, and as they leave the station a sympathetic cop gives Paul the card of an ex-colleague who is now a private investigator.
Paul is reluctant to go this route, not least because he isn’t rich, but out of curiosity he drives to the PI’s office to check him out. The man, Frank Behr, is not at all what Paul expected, so with nothing to lose, Paul and Carol decide to hire Frank. Frank is suffering himself, as his own young son has died a few years ago and his marriage broke up as a result. He identifies with the pain Paul and Carol are feeling, but warns the anguished parents that it is almost inevitable that by now Jamie is dead.
Frank starts his investigation, beginning with the boy’s movements on the day he disappeared. The reader joins Frank on a fascinating journey in which he follows up on every detail, however slight, as gradually he discovers exactly where Jamie disappeared, and then thinks of a plausible lead to follow that had (again plausibly) eluded the police. I was totally absorbed not only in the way in which the author paces out the slow uncovering of piece after piece of (initially thin, gradually strengthening) evidence as tough-guy Frank follows everything through, but also in the tender relationship between Frank and Paul, who form an initially uneasy partnership born of grief, yet gradually become genuine friends.
There is a lot to like about this book. It’s an intelligent detective story, as Frank digs around among seedy urban enterprises and petty criminals; it’s an action thriller, as Frank continually either welcomes trouble or stumbles into it; it’s strong and unflinching, yet never slips into gratuitousness; and it has a heart. The author genuinely likes his characters, not only his protagonist Frank but the sad family who were destroyed the day that Jamie disappeared.
City of the Sun is a great read – it is in the mould of Linwood Barclay and C. J. Box, and comes with jacket endorsements from Robert Crais and Harlan Coben. I definitely see similarities between this fast-paced debut novel and these two authors’ books – which is praise indeed. If David Levien develops the potential he shows in City of the Sun in his future books (the next in the series is called Where The Dead Lay), it won’t be too long before he is up there in that pantheon.
I thank the UK publisher, Bantam/Transworld, for so kindly sending me a copy of this novel.
From Wikipedia: David Levien is an American screenwriter, novelist, director and producer. Best known as the co-writer of Ocean's Thirteen and Rounders, Levien has also produced films such as The Illusionist and The Lucky Ones.