Review: Gone, Baby, Gone by Dennis Lehane

Gone Baby GoneYears ago I did the unthinkable: I saw a film before reading the book it was based on.

Gasp! No! You fool!

I know, right? Rookie mistake.

Y’know what made it worse? The film – Ben Affleck’s feature-length debut, the adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s GONE, BABY, GONE – was fantastic. It ranks in my “Top 10 Films of All Time” list. The performances by Casey Affleck as Patrick Kenzie and Michelle Monaghan as Angie Gennaro were wonderful. They encapsulated the wit and chemistry demonstrated in Lehane’s other Kenzie / Gennaro thrillers. But the thing is, a film like that, so good, so unforgettable, means its plot has remained ingrained in my mind since its 2007 release. I felt like the book would be overshadowed by my admiration of its adaptation. So I’ve waited for half a decade – haven’t watched the film in three or four years, have tried to unshackle its resonant awesomeness from my mind – and finally, just minutes ago, I finished reading GONE, BABY, GONE.

Ladies and gentlemen: Dennis Lehane’s fourth Kenize / Gennaro thriller could well be my favorite crime novel of all time.

In GONE, BABY, GONE, Boston based private investigators (and lovers) Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro are hired by the niece of the missing Amanda McCready, whose disappearance dominates local media outlets, and has the full attention of the police department. Patrick and Angie are reluctant to take the case – what can they do that the police can’t? – but Amanda’s aunt is unyielding. So they begin digging, delving into the little girl’s rotten life. Amanda’s mother, Helene is, to put it bluntly, unfit to be a parent. A drug user, a drinker, she’s completely oblivious to the fundamentals of parenthood; her brother Lionel relays a story of Helene leaving Amanda out in the sun so long her skin actually burned; and when Amanda was taken from her home, Helene wasn’t even there, and now with the publicity surrounding her, she seems more interest in how she can use the limelight to her benefit, rather than using it to find her daughter. Although she expresses genuine concern for the welfare of her daughter, she doesn’t seem cognizant of how desperate the situation is.

Patrick and Angie work the case with two members of the police department’s Crimes Against Children division, focusing on one particular angle involving Boston’s criminal underworld. Lehane effortlessly weaves the narrative’s twists and turns, punctuating the novel with sporadic moments of dry humour, keeping the characters real. And when violence occurs, it’s brutal. We feel the character’s pain, both physical and mental; the burden of being tasked with finding this young girl weighs heavily, particularly as time passes, and the odds of finding her become increasingly unlikely. The strain on Patrick and Angie’s relationship is heart-wrenching; these are characters readers of their previous three stories have been waiting to unite, and because of this case, the one they didn’t want, their relationship threatens to unravel.

GONE, BABY, GONE is a powerful, morally-ambiguous novel. Every victory experienced by Patrick and Angie feels hollow. The concept of right and wrong is completely whitewashed. There’s no black and white; there is just an awful, hazy grey. One of the finest crime novels I’ve had the pleasure of reading, one that will remain on my shelf and become dog-eared over the years with multiple re-reads, GONE, BABY, GONE is stunning, a demonstration of how malleable and powerful this genre can be when utilized by a master talent like Dennis Lehane.

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