City of the Sun
By David Levien
|Value for money||7/10|
|Did it do what it said on the box?||7/10|
Well written, but uninspiring
By a weird co-incidence, I watched "Ocean’s 13" the night before this book found its way to the top of my reading pile. Levien also wrote the screenplay for that film, which I enjoyed enormously, and I was looking forwards to a similar mix of complex plot and light touch dialogue in the book, but sadly I was to be disappointed.
Basically this is a book about a grim and serious subject – the kidnapping of children by organised peadophiles – and as a result it demands a rather grim and serious treatment. At the end there is hope for the boy’s parents and the detective, but therwise this is an unleavened slog which does not make you feel good about the world.
That said, the book is quite well written, and held my attention with its steady pace and well-drawn characters. I expect that readers who prefer their crime novels straight, rather than with Hiaasen-like comic twists, will enjoy it more than I did.
However, I can’t agree with the fulsome praise heaped on the book by other writers such as Lincoln Child and Harlan Coben. It isn’t that well written. The protagonists always get the information they require for the next stage of the trail before the appropriate baddy comes to a well-flagged sticky end, and a bit more obfuscation might have been better. The central characters are reasonably well drawn, but many of the others are very stereotypical.
The hero of the piece is himself a stereotype retired cop become private detective, blessed with both prodigious physical talents and well-honed police skills. While he has suffered a great tragedy, he doesn’t seem to have any real weaknesses. Homer knew that a real hero needs his "Achilles Heel", but Behr is like Sherlock Holmes and Casey Ryback (from "Under Siege") rolled into one. I realised part way through the book that I had been mentally pronouncing his name "Bayer", but was probably meant to pronounce it "Bear". Come on, we can try harder than this!
While I’m on a critical note, I was also annoyed by the cover artwork! One of the plot’s turning points is where Behr works out exactly where the child was snatched, with careful description of the street names. The cover does indeed show an abandoned bicycle at a suburban US road junction, but the street name is clearly wrong, and in the book the bicycle is stolen, not abandoned. I wish publishers would show a bit more attention to detail!
If you want to read a solid, serious crime drama then this may be a good choice, but don’t expect humour or challenge from this book.