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Welcome to the Jungle. Open the first page of David Levien’s terrific new novel Where the Dead Lay and you’ll find your shoes firmly planted on the mean streets of Indianapolis, Indiana. This is tough turf, home to hell-bent criminals, double-dealing lawyers, lost souls seeking redemption, and a brooding P.I. named Frank Behr who, as his name implies, is the toughest of them all. It’s a dark world full of shifty, dangerous characters and Levien paints it as a masterpiece of grays and blacks. We’re talking Caravaggio here. Chiaroscuro. We’ve walked these streets before, in Detroit, D.C., and Miami Beach, with authors like Ross MacDonald, Elmore Leonard, and Peter Blauner. But it’s been a while since a new author has shown up to rival them. Enter Mr. Levien.
His first novel, City of the Sun, established his bonafides. I read it in a day and I came away shaken. This was a crime novel of a different order. Sure it had solid plotting, an unbeatable ear for dialogue, and compelling characters. But it also had a depth of humanity and pathos that lifted it out of the genre. Where the Dead Lay continues in this rich and satisfying vein.
When Frank Behr’s Brazilian martial arts instructor is brutally murdered, Behr is compelled out of friendship, and a student’s duty, to investigate. The serpentine trail leads to the city’s underbelly, notably to the Schlegels, a family of small-time hoods with big-time ambitions, and no compunction about doing whatever necessary to realize them. Levien’s writing shines in his depiction of the bad guys. They don’t come to life so much as walk in your front door, sit down on the edge of your bed, and put a gun to your head. They are real. They are scary. Behr has plenty of his own problems to sort out along the way. The “dead” referred to in the title are as much from the past as the present. It’s Behr’s internal struggles that make him a memorable hero and lend the book its eloquent voice.
Where the Dead Lay delivers on all counts.
It is crime fiction at its finest. —Christopher Reich
(Photo © Katja Reich)
Amazon Exclusive: An Essay by David Levien
Some Things You Need to Know
Many people ask me for advice on writing a crime novel, how to go about it and what they need to know. The question provokes in me the immediate desire that they had asked someone else—say a Hammett, or a Chandler, or an Ellroy, a Leonard or a Child—someone with a pile of books to his name and a patina of mastery, and not me with my two crime titles (City of the Sun and Where the Dead Lay) so far. Though the responsibility and length of a proper answer is daunting, here is a short one: you need to know at least a little bit about a lot.
You need to know a little bit about guns, a touch about surveillance, at least something about police procedure. Some knowledge of the law can be useful, perhaps a basic understanding of fighting and physical violence. You need grounding in the facts or history of crime—the way organized crime works, about various frauds, how a gambling ring takes its profit, the elements of extortion, the layers of a drug operation. This stuff and more is the stock in trade for my character Frank Behr—it’s what keeps him alive—so I’ve had to learn it.
You may not have an ex-police officer, Secret Service Agent, and private investigator for a stepfather (who also happens to be a great guy) as I am fortunate to, or count amongst your friends ex-cops and various experts in the field. But if you can get a ride-along or develop some relationships with law enforcement, it will surely help.
More than all that though, you need a sense, or at least a theory or idea, as to why these people do what they do. This goes for the bad guys as well as the good guys, your heroes and your villains alike. Whether you are dealing with dissociative personalities, sociopaths, or full-blown psychopaths, or drawing the obsessive types who pursue them. What makes them get started crossing that line, or trying to hold it, and what makes them keep going when the odds are against them? It’s not easy supporting oneself by scamming or dealing or boosting, and it’s no easier trying to stop it.
Oh yeah, then you’ve got to write it all down. Now that’s the part where real advice is called for, and again, please ask someone better qualified than me to give it. But if you do set out, and you happen to find yourself frozen by the specter of the thousands upon thousands of crime books, many of them true works of literature, that have come before yours, you could always resort to what so many of the greats have from time to time—steal a little.—David Levien
(Photo © Peter Andrews) --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
I've read D. Levien before and liked his work. This one was intriguing, as the protagonist Frank Behr is caught in the middle of his pregnant girlfriend and the death of his judo... Read morePublished 9 days ago by E. R. Yatscoff
Well written and engaging who dun nit. Character Frank Behr is super. Would like to see more from this author.Published 20 days ago by john kriegsmann
Loved this book. the characters are real and you want to know what happens to them next. Looking forward to more from this author.Published 1 month ago by Sandra Bina
This was the first book I've read by David Levien and I really liked it. The story was very good and the main character was very likable. Read morePublished 17 months ago by Gerald Nisker
Started off a little slow but got really interesting and I couldn't put the book down. I have read it twice and it got better the second time.Published 20 months ago by Jake Poulos
The book was good, but not spectacular. I didn't like that the other players (the lieutenant), did not have an ending. I would recommend it to others.Published on May 8, 2013 by charles campbell