Maverick ex-cop Frank Behr doesn't like suits, BlackBerry phones, or being told what to do. He's lumbered with all three in The Contract, David Levien's third novel about the detective.
Behr's taken a job as investigator with a high-end corporation, The Caro Group, because his girlfriend Suzy is about to have their child. He's trying to knuckle down and do the right thing, and readers who have the read the first Behr novel, City of the Sun, will know that his last attempt at parenthood ended tragically with the death of his son in an accident.
However, following orders does not come easily to Behr, particularly when someone unloads a few rounds at him while he is minding a businessman with political prospects, Bernard 'Bernie Cool' Kolodnik, and the authorities and his bosses at Caro don't seem in a hurry to find out who the gunman was. Despite frequent warnings from the Indiana cops and his bosses to keep out of it, Behr starts digging.
David Levien is a top Hollywood scriptwriter (Ocean's Thirteen) and is skilled at slowing revealing the fallout from a deal over a new race track and casino – a racino – that went expensively down the dumper. The writing is impactful and slick, cleverly weaving twin narratives following Behr and a sociopath from Wales, of all places, called Wadsworth Dwyer. A subplot about the blackmail of Behr’s boss fizzles out, but nevertheless the tension never relents.
Dwyer is a ferociously nasty piece of work, expert in judo, Japanese jujitsu, military hand-to-hand combat, and acquainted with sambo and the system specnaz, two Russian martial arts, and the one favoured by Israeli intelligence, Krav Maga. Not a man whose beer you should spill.
Dwyer and 6’5”, 240 pound Behr are on a mighty collision course as the Welshman seeks to clean up after the hit man who missed Bernie Cool and the investigator tries to find out how he got into the line of fire. Levien does a good job of getting inside the heads of these two (smartly using British idioms to depict Dwyer’s thoughts). While Dwyer is trying to engineer one last major pay day so he can retire, Behr wants to be a caring partner while his obsession with his personal investigation threatens to break his bond with Suzy.
A couple of murders before the end are shocking, not because the writing is gratuitous but because we are so well acquainted with the victims. While the violence reaches Tom and Jerry proportions near the climax, Levien has created characters the reader will care about, making this a bone-breaking thriller with heart.