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April 6, 2011 / schulerbooks

The Thirteen Million Dollar Pop, by David Levien

The last time we met with Frank Behr, PI, he was reluctantly accepting a position with an investigation outfit named Caro. He wasn’t keen on joining up, partially because of that suit and tie thing, but also because he could tell that something wasn’t quite right. But in spite of the way they played him, he was needing a steady gig, running out of friends, and about to become a father.
PI instinct aside, settling into their orbit seemed the prudent thing to do.
Now, some time later, Behr’s realizing he was right. They’re wanting him to perform break-ins and other “gray” activities on their behalf. So far he’s been able to say no, and they’ve been willing to laugh it off, but he doesn’t know how long he can keep refusing to do what they brought someone like him on board for; after all, every investigation outfit needs a bull on a leash to break down the china shop, and that’s him.
Then a security detail gone wrong shakes up his own porcelain — literally — as the high-rolling businessman he’s guarding for the night is almost perforated by an automatic weapon in a parking garage.
Behr’s superb handling of the matter saves the client, and makes his employers very pleased with him. But there’s a lot of unanswered and disturbing questions about the timing of the hit (just before the guy gets appointed to a Senate seat in D.C.? REALLY?) and his own outfit’s unwillingness to look further into the matter disturbs him. Of course, he’s not surprised that the Indianapolis PD isn’t too seemingly energetic, much less helpful, about the matter — that’s part of why he left them in the first place.
But when the guy he saved seems to want to shove his near-assassination down the memory hole, too, Behr realizes there’s a lot more to this than what he’s being told. And giving him the cold-shouldered runaround just encourages him.
Before long, Behr’s up to his bull neck in real estate deals gone wrong, gambling, blackmail, hired thugs, and the kind of quietly corrupt, sweep-it-under-the-rug dirty politics only a seemingly clean city like Indianapolis could cradle to its bosom and care for. It’s the sort of thing he knows how to handle very well, but his employers aren’t too keen about him sniffing around the crime on company time. And when another assassin slides into town to clean up the other’s mess, Behr’s going to have to tread carefully if he wants to live to uncover the secret of the Thirteen Million Dollar Pop.
Levien’s sophomore run with Behr, Where the Dead Lay, was something of a disappointment after the taut and harrowing masterpiece that was City of the Sun. With his latest work, the indefatigable PI is back on top of his game with a harsh roar of a story that pulls no punches, and evokes both dread and cheering as the clues and bodies stack up, side by side. Behr is a delightfully flawed creation, broken yet unbreakable, who crashes after the truth — and occasionally justice — regardless of who and what tries to get in his way.
The Thirteen Million Dollar Pop drops august 9th, 2011
Jim Tremlett – Eastwood
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