(Posting for the second time, hopefully this will show up...)
Levison truly earns his "black belt" with this book and in the process may have created his own subgenre: Caustic Crime (?)
The characters are spot-on: hilarious, dangerous, sad and fed-up. I enjoyed his other two books about the hell of dead-end jobs and a laid-off worker who becomes an assassin, but this one tops them both. Satiric, but always believable. A caustic condemnation of the way the world works (especially in light of the recent financial meltdown!).
There's the intelligent ex-con, Dixon, who resorts to bank robbery because he's smart enough to know that the banks are the real crooks; the female Fed, Denise, whose idealism has rusted over because all she does is protect the "fantastically wealthy and well-insured"; and finally, Elias, the stymied college prof, who will do anything for recognition -- anything.
Levison absolutely nails the personas of these characters, from all the stresses and details involved in trying to successfully evade cops to the "ennui" suffered by a female FBI agent trapped in an office full of jerks. The guy certainly did his research.
Here's an excerpt that illustrates the book's dark, but telling humor. Elisas is talking about Dixon, the bank robber he's harboring, while lamenting the staid, pretentious world of academia (hilarious!) as represented by his girlfriend, Ann:
"This maniac [Dixon] was a less intrusive guest than Ann's friends. Perhaps Elias would invite him over one day when Ann came back. If she came back. That would be a fun evening, Dixon running around screaming "f**k" at everyone while they walked around with their wineglasses held high, pinkies extended, discussing the stunning revelations of Salinger's mistress or the latest issue of LitReview Quarterly."
But it's also poignant. The characters are fully realized. We see points in their lives that proved so impacting. The robber's blown relationship with a café waitress and the prof's memories of his mother are especially affecting. And, oh, Iain does an awesome job bringing to life a female character (the FBI agent). Thus disproving the myth that men can't fully capture a woman's POV.
In this book, nothing is what it seems and you'll find your allegiances shifting back and forth. And the ending is a true shocker...the sort that really exposes human nature. I myself was rooting for Dixon in the end.
The writing style is punchy, direct and captures just the right amount of detail. Never flags.
This is one of those "under the radar" books that truly deserves much wider attention. The weird thing though is that I read this book came out in France in translation two years ago and is only now being published in the states. I guess the French still have a taste for Noir...
Buy it. Read it. You won't be disappointed if you're any fan of the crime genre or simply looking for a kick butt read that peels back the truth on "good guys" and "bad guys" in today's world.
Iain, if you're reading this -- great job, man! :) Look forward to anything else you might write.