Thursday, November 11, 2010
I remember buying Dennis Lehane's first novel, A Drink Before the War, brand new in hardback from a bookstore that no longer exists. That was back in 1994, when I was still reading private eye novels hand over fist, and I remember reading the inside of the dust jacket and seeing that Lehane's book was set in Boston and thinking that was a pretty gutsy move since Robert B. Parker, then the current PI heavyweight, had staked out Boston as his own territory.
As it turned out, Lehane owed little to Parker. Spenser exists in a Boston of nice restaurants, College functions, and an overall atmosphere of very upper middle class to rich. Lehane's Boston is blue collar, working class all the way. His two detectives, Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro are definitely more human and down to Earth than semi-Superman Spenser. The only thing that struck me as Spenser-like about Lehane's series was the character Bubba, a killer redneck who acts much in the role that Hawk fills in the Spenser books. He's the guy who will do the things that the main character won't. (I blogged before about how when I first read A Drink Before the War, I was put out because I was then five chapters into the writing of a private eye novel featuring a sidekick named Bubba who was a killer redneck. I still have that manuscript somewhere. Such is life.)
I liked A Drink Before the War quite a bit, and over the next five years I picked up the Kenzie/Gennaro books that followed, right up to 1999's Prayers for Rain. And there the books stopped.
Lehane's next book was 2001's Mystic River, a stand alone that won an award or two and was later made into an Academy Award winning movie by Clint Eastwood. I started the book but didn't finish it. Just not my sort of thing, I guess. I gave Lehane kudos for branching out and trying other things, but I missed the Kenzie/Gennaro books. I was reminded of this when I watched the 2007 movie adaptation of the novel Gone, Baby Gone. I thought it an excellent adaptation, and I liked Casey Affleck as Kenzie. Made me wish that Lehane would get back to his original series, but by that time eight years had passed and I'd begun to think I wouldn't be seeing any new stories about Patrick and Angie.
Jump forward about three more years to Tuesday. I was browsing in Barnes and Noble, looking through the New Hardback section and I spotted Lehane's name on a cover. I almost passed it by, figuring it would be just another stand alone like Mystic River, Shutter Island, or The Given Day, but I thought,"Gee wouldn't it be cool if that was a new Patrick Kenzie book." I picked up the book, titled Moonlight Mile, and lo and behold, it was indeed a return to the private eye genre.
I read most of Moonlight Mile Tuesday night and let me tell you, the layoff did Lehane good. The writing is sharper, the characters more well drawn. I was instantly drawn back into Lehane's world and the lives of his characters. The only reason I didn't finish the book was it was getting late and I didn't want to rush through the end. I finished it yesterday afternoon as soon as I got home from work and it did not disappoint.
Moonlight Mile is a sequel to 1998's Gone, Baby Gone, perhaps Lehane's most controversial book in the series. At the end of Gone, Patrick Kenzie has to make a choice that pretty much ruins his life. He made the right choice based on his ethics, but a lot of people paid a terrible price. Just how terrible becomes clear as Moonlight Mile unfolds. Now it's twelve years later, time having passed in 'real time'. Kenzie and Gennaro, just into their 30s in Gone are now in their early 40s. They're married and have a four year old daughter. The recession has hit them hard and they are barely squeaking by on what Kenzie makes as a private eye, while Angie has gone back to school. They're struggling with the present when the past rears up and smacks them right between the eyes.
Amanda McCready the little girl who's abduction set the events of Gone, Baby Gone in motion, has gone missing again. Now aged sixteen, she's vanished without a trace. Amanda's aunt confronts Patrick, saying he owes a debt for what he did twelve years earlier and it's up to him to find Amanda again. Patrick tries to ignore her and get on with his life, but finds he can't let the case go.
In typical PI style, Patrick has barely begun to look into the case when he is beaten up and warned off. But anybody who knows Patrick Kenzie knows that he isn't going to stand down and trying to force him will just make him all the more determined. He and Bubba go looking for the guys who roughed up Patrick and took his laptop and the bad guys learn why you don't mess with the friend of a killer redneck. Soon Patrick finds that Amanda is into some seriously bad stuff with some seriously bad people in a world where human life is worth nothing.
If I have any problem with the book it's the near the end where Lehane sacrifices logic and probability for a 'surprise plot twist' but he's done that before. (And I wasn't surprised then either.) For the most part his snappy yet literate prose and his skill at writing complex characters makes me ignore the occasional plot wonkyness.
Overall I really enjoyed Moonlight Mile. The end is written as a possible finish for the series. If Lehane decides to stop writing about these characters he's given them a fine send off. But I hope he'll revisit Patrick and Angie again. It was good to see them.