Monday, March 30, 2009

Best First Mystery Novel Nominee: David Levien's CITY OF THE SUN

A little insight into life with a true collector of mysteries: When my husband Dave spotted an early review of CITY OF THE SUN by David Levien, and realized that Michael Connelly had praised it, he quietly picked up a lovely copy for his collection. And the rule is, we leave those lovely copies in fine condition on the shelf -- touch not!

So it was only recently that a copy available for me to read came into the shop. I hit the couch with it yesterday afternoon, and by evening it was obvious that I would lose a lot of sleep -- this book demands reading all the way through, no matter how late that makes bedtime. By a quarter of the way through, I was also saying repeatedly to Dave, "This is NOT a first novel. No way. This is expert writing."

Which it is. And in fact, although CITY OF THE SUN is a nominee for Strand Magazine's "best first mystery novel," it's Levien's first in that genre, but his third published novel (the others are WORMWOOD; and SWAGBELLY, A NOVEL FOR TODAY'S GENTLEMAN). And he's a well-credentialed screenwriter for such films as "Ocean's 13."

The book's been blurbed by Lincoln Child, Harlan Coben, and Robert Crais. Levien's protagonist, a ex-cop (fired for good reason), almost turns down the case that Paul and Carol Gabriel ask him to investigate: the disappearance, 14 months earlier, of their twelve-year-old son Jamie during his early-morning newspaper delivery route. Investigator Frank Behr, "an enigmatic mountain of a man," knows that this is exactly the kind of case he can't afford to take. He needs the money, obviously, but not the heartbreak.

What drives the book, and eventually takes it way out of the ordinary for crime fiction, is the poignant relationship developing between investigator and client: Frank and Paul are physically as different as possible, and nothing alike socially, either. But searching for clues on what happened to Jamie forces them into unexpected situations where what's between them becomes at least as important as where they are and who's threatening them next.

Pick up a copy now, while there are still some first edition copies available in nice shape. This is a keeper.

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