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Signature Kill


Signature Kill

I like Indianapolis for all the wrong reasons. It is one of those cities that has a shiny veneer that, if you look closely, is very thin and at any given point seems a week or two from slipping posterior over teakettle into a Mad Max scenario. Indeed, some parts of the city, where the buses don’t run and the conventioneers don’t flock, are there already. David Levien captures the mood of the city perfectly in his Frank Behr series, which is why he has been on my must-read list since CITY OF THE SUN, which kicked things off. SIGNATURE KILL, the fourth installment after entirely too long of an absence, demonstrates practically from the first page that this is a book worth waiting for.

The narrative alternates between Behr and an unknown antagonist. Let’s start with the latter. We know well before any of the characters that there is a serial murderer loose on the streets of Indianapolis, one whose prey is unlikely to ever be missed. Levien skillfully drops bread crumbs here and there through the forest of his story, giving us little details about the personality of the fiend. These are enough for the reader to quickly reach the conclusions that the individual is very, very smart and, yes, just ordinary and normal enough to hide more or less in plain sight. As for Behr, he is, as always, at somewhat loose ends.

"SIGNATURE KILL reads like a dark dream, one that you’ll want to wake up from even as you hope it never ends.... Join me in putting Levien on your must-read list and SIGNATURE KILL at the top of your to-be-read pile."

When we first encounter him in SIGNATURE KILL, Behr is deer hunting on the last day of the season. The vignette not only serves as a metaphor but also gives the reader further insight into his personality, which Levien has been providing in dribs and drabs over the course of the previous three novels. While driving home from his excursion, Behr sees a billboard advertising a reward for information concerning Kendra Gibbons, a young woman who has gone missing. The reward is quite sizable, and Behr jumps on the search, motivated by the money. His work as a private investigator isn’t as lucrative as he had hoped, and he has Trev, his infant son, and Susan, Trev’s mother, to provide for. Behr is involved with both but not living with them; the relationship between him and Susan is believable, for sure, and Levien tap-dances a thin line here, keeping his motives for failing to fully commit understandable and the character thus likable. Matters are further complicated by a co-worker of Susan’s who is trying to bird-dog while trying not to be obvious.

Meanwhile, the discovery of an unidentified woman’s dismembered body in a local park sparks Behr’s curiosity, wondering if perhaps the remains belong to the same individual he is searching for. Behr calls in a chit or two from frenemies on the police force and elsewhere, discovering that 1) the dismembered woman is not Kendra, and 2) the identified woman has been murdered in a manner similar to those of a horrifying number of women over an extended period of time. As Behr learns early on, this is the work of a signature killer with serial predation. He begins following a trail of evidence that amounts to next to nothing, hoping that it will lead him to an answer concerning Kendra’s final fate...while at the same time hoping that it won’t.

The killer stays active yet hidden, an undistinguished threat among the people of Indianapolis, cloaked in his outward normalcy. For Behr, the hunt soon becomes about something far more than money. The fiend must be stopped, and at all costs. But how, when the doer seemingly moves about the populace at will?

SIGNATURE KILL reads like a dark dream, one that you’ll want to wake up from even as you hope it never ends. Levien, who has demonstrated the touch of a master craftsman since his first Behr novel, outdoes himself here, particularly in the passages involving the killer. Behr will make you believe that there are people like that out there, if, somehow, you had any doubt. Join me in putting Levien on your must-read list and SIGNATURE KILL at the top of your to-be-read pile.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on April 2, 2015

Signature Kill
by David Levien

  • Publication Date: April 5, 2016
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor
  • ISBN-10: 0307475905
  • ISBN-13: 9780307475909