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City of the Sun tells the story of a kidnapping of a young boy Jamies, and the effect it has on the devastated parents, Carol and Paul, and the private detective, Frank Behr, who they hire.
It took me a couple of tries to get into this book. The first 25 pages are off-putting for two reasons: firstly, the self consciously stylised short sentences and present tense that Levien uses, and secondly, the horrible language used by Jamie's two kidnappers. However on page 25 the present tense magically disappears (with no explanation!), the writing improves and we hear much less from the two kidnappers, who only reappear occasionally throughout the book with their unpleasant thoughts and swear words making up just a very small part of the narrative.
So what is the book like once it gets going? Simply put, it is excellent. Gripping and absorbing, so that I didn't want to put it down. The plot is pretty standard: grieving parents find the police to be useless so hire a gritty, no nonsense PI who has issues of his own relating to losing a son himself. But there's a reason plots like this are so often used, and that is that they can be brilliant when done right. And here, it's done right.
Paul and Carol's characters are beautifully written: their grief, anger and confusion are portrayed very well alongside their painfully broken marriage. A scene where Carol breaks down in a yoga class had me crying. And Behr is perhaps the character that we get to know best, and he is excellent: strong, silent, dedicated - everything you'd want in a PI if your son had gone missing.
Even the smaller characters, like the kidnappers and those they work for, are written brilliantly, and jump off the page. It is even possible to feel sympathy for some of these horrible men because they are described so well. No one is portrayed as completely evil, and every person in the book is well rounded and 3D.
The plot is exciting, even when little is happening it is still tense and intriguing. The only problem I have is that it ends a little abruptly, and I would have enjoyed reading an epilogue to see how the characters dealt with what they found.
I really enjoyed this book but I would only recommend it if you've got quite a strong stomach and are able to endure some disturbing and unpleasant events and descriptions. If that sounds like you, then this is a book you should definitely read, as it's one of the best crime or investigatory novels I've read for ages.
The hardback version has an RRP of £10.00 but is available on Amazon.co.uk for £7.00.
(updated from my review on Amazon.co.uk)