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Where the Dead Lay - Review

I hate to write a bad review, so by extension this will not be a bad review of David Levien's second novel, WHERE THE DEAD LAY. However, this was a pretty close call. What went wrong, and what went ultimately right?

The 'what went wrong' is pretty easy; basically the first one hundred pages. Character, plot, pacing, all of it. A stunningly uninvolved dirge. The elements of a story are thrown up on a wall to see what sticks. Not much did . So what changed?

Well, right around page 96 The author finally decides to get down to business. You can almost see the moment where Mr. Levien finally gets what his own story is about. It is ok to have a story where your lead character is spiritually lost, but the Frank Behr of the first third is being written as lost. Mr. Levien uses the sign post of personal tragedy to tell me that Frank is a lost soul. Don't tell me, show me. Once Frank''s focus becomes finding justice for his murdered Jui-jitsu instructor, he can sublimate his own personal desire for punishment in an unjust world. The book moves along with a vigor missing from the opening. What took a week, now only took me only 24 hours to finish.

The book still sputters at times. The pregnant girlfriend story goes nowhere, and virtually stops the book cold each time she makes an appearance. One of the more enticing stray threads of the first hundred pages explores the criminals of the book, a family of violent thugs. I admire the attempt, but with limited space it just didn't work. Too many characters, three sons, the father, and the mother all vying for our attention. It is all set up with no follow through.

What really does work is the creation of Frank Behr. He is one of those tortured lone wolves in a world of chaos. Not exactly original, but when well written (i.e. everything after the hundred page mark) you can't help but pull for a guy who has seen so much rot in this world.


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