Review: Moonlight Mile by Dennis Lehane

Moonlight MileGone, Baby, Gone is one of my favourite crime novels, and I revisit it every couple of years out of sheer appreciation for its craftsmanship (its film adaptation is great, too). I’ve read Moonlight Mile — its sequel, penned and set twelve years later — just as often, and love it almost as much. Having reread it recently, it reminded me of how much I miss Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro . . . and also, how effectively Dennis Lehane ended (supposedly) his series.

Moonlight Mile relies on the emotional impact of the gut-punch ending of Gone, Baby, Gone. In that book, private investigators Patrick and Angie rescued four-year-old Amanda McCready from a couple who only wanted the best for her, and returned her to her unfit mother. The morality of that decision has plagued Patrick and Angie for more than a decade; it has become a subject they no longer discuss. In those intervening years, Patrick and Angie have married, and a blessed with a daughter. All things considered — they’re broke, scraping to get by, living from paycheck to paycheck — they are happy. They are a family. Then they learn Amanda disappears again, and wracked by guilt, Patrick makes it his mission to find her, which seems him square up against the Russian Mob and other nefarious characters, putting his wife and daughter’s life at risk.

The twelve-year gap between books works brilliantly. Angie and Patrick have matured, with flickers of their youthful, instinctive selves, but now burdened by other responsibilities. Once upon a time they could — and did — throw themselves into the fray with barely a thought of the consequences. They’re not able to do that anymore. Characters in crime fiction are rarely allowed to age — of if they are, because we revisit them every year or two, their changes and maturity occurs glacially. The constrast between the characters then and now makes Moonlight Mile a real treat. Lehane doesn’t labour on these differences; they’re identifiable, but nuanced.

Moonlight Mile packs plenty of action, well-developed characters, and an ending that’ll leave you wanting more, but also accepting of the fact Patrick and Angie may have nothing else to give. It’s not a revolutionary PI novel. Lehane doesn’t reinvent the wheel, here. But gosh, he’s proves that wheel has plenty of traction. It’s just a darn fine mystery novel with brilliant characters.

ISBN: 9780349123684
Format: Paperback
Pages: 448
Imprint: Abacus
Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group
Publish Date: 1-Jun-2011
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Since We Fell by Dennis Lehane

9781408708330.jpgDennis Lehane is the author of one of my favourite novels of all time — Shutter Island — and as a long-time admirer of his Patrick Kenzie / Angie Gennaro crime series, as well as the stellar Coughlin trilogy, I was very much looking forward to his new standalone book. And Since We Fell, ultimately, doesn’t disappoint, despite its slightly meandrous beginning, when it feels like Lehane is taking the scenic route to the novel’s core. But when the moment arrives (which will remain unspoiled in this review, obviously), everything clicks into place, and the novel kicks into Lehane’s trademark high gear.

Since We Fell follows Rachel Childs, a former television journalist, who lives as a virtual shut-in after a mental breakdown she experienced on-air as a result of coverage of the massive earthquake that shattered Haiti in 2010. Despite her struggles, life’s not altogether so bad for Rachel: she lives a wonderful life with her husband, who demonstrates incredible composure and understanding of her situation. Then, as a result of a chance encounter one afternoon, everything changes, and Rachel realises she’s been involved in a massive conspiracy; a deception unlike anything she could’ve possibly anticipated. To face the truth, and to survive it, she must overcome her greatest fears.

Lehane’s latest is a satisfying physiological thriller that becomes utterly relentless once it gains traction. The background into Rachel’s past seems excessive at times, even though it’s ultimately necessary information for readers to fully understand her motivations. But once you get through it, when you reach the moment, the plot comes together in exhilarating fashion. The tension is ratcheted up to the nth degree, and readers will be turning the pages as fast as they possibly can to see how the story plays out.

Dennis Lehane’s novels are at the top of the genre’s food chain. Since We Fell is blessed with a compelling narrative and top-notch writing. It will satisfy Lehane’s legion of fans and convert new ones. At a time when our bookstore shelves are packed with titles trying desperately to be the next Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train, Since We Fell will satisfy fans of both, but remains its own distinct beast.

ISBN: 9781408708347
Format: Paperback (231mm x 154mm x 33mm)
Pages: 432
Imprint: Little, Brown
Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group
Publish Date: 9-May-2017
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: World Gone By by Dennis Lehane

World Gone By

ISBN: 9781408706701
Price: $29.99 AUD
Publication date: 12/05/2015

World Gone By is the third novel in Dennis Lehane’s ambitious set of historical novels, and an immensely satisfying crime novel in its own right.

Against the backdrop of World War II, World Gone By is set a decade after the events of Live By Night. Joseph Coughlin has left behind his gangster past and now serves behind the scenes of the Florida crime syndicate as an advisor; completely  hands-off, consultant work only. At the same time, he walks among the Tampa elite as a respected businessman. For all intents and purposes, despite a bloodied past, which turned him into a widower, Coughlin lives a comfortable existence. But all of that is about to change.

It starts with the appearance of a ghost. It has the appearance of a young boy, whose face remains indiscernible regardless of Joe’s angle. A manifestation of Joe’s father? Perhaps Joe himself? Or the ethereal reincarnation of one of Joe’s victims? He can’t make sense of it; why now, at this juncture of life, is he being haunted? His woes continue when he learns he is the target of an assassination. But who wants Joe dead? And why? The life he has constructed for himself, and his young son, wiped his criminal slate clean. He no longer has enemies.  Joe Coughlin may no longer wield a fearful presence, but he maintains a respected one, and respectability holds a certain amount of cache in any spectrum of society, criminal or aboveboard.

World Gone By is a novel about morality. Joe never denies his tainted past. He doesn’t pretend to be a good man, but would say he’s trying to be a better one for the sake of his son. He’s played the cards he was dealt, and has done so successfully. And despite the inherent criminality of his actions, he’s never betrayed his code of ethics. Gangsters, contrary to what their profession might suggest, have a code. But Lehane’s novel demonstrates just how fallible that code is, and how easily empires can collapse when one oversteps those boundaries. World Gone By puts long-standing friendships and alliances to the test. When you’re a gangster, who can you can trust? And once you’ve been a gangster, once you’ve been steeped in immorality, is there really such a thing as renewal? Can you remove yourself from that life? Such themes have been explored previously, but few have done so as adeptly as Lehane.

With its cracking pace and white-knuckled conclusion, World Gone By is a stunning historical crime novel. While it might lack the overt ambitiousness of The Given Day, it’s a fine demonstration of Lehane’s literary prowess. More please.

Review: Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane

Shutter IslandShutter Island is a master class on how to tell a personal, affecting story in a novel you’ll find shelved under ‘thriller’ but is actually so much more. It begins as a mystery, but morphs into a physiological nightmare for its protagonist, with twists and turns aplenty, and a finale that will leave readers reeling.

US Marshals Teddy Daniels and Chuck Aule arrive at Ashecliff Hospital on Shutter Island in 1954, tasked with locating an escaped patient, Rachel Solando, a housewife who drowned her three children. The scenario is troubling for several reasons: how could she have possibly escaped a locked room and traversed the facility without being spotted; and where could she have possibly fled to? This is an island, after all, with sea in all directions. Even more mysterious are the series of clues Rachel left around the island – but what do they lead to? Teddy and Chuck find the Ashecliff Hospital staff reluctant to share information: patient files are sealed, and Rachel’s therapist was allowed to leave on vacation despite his patient’s escape. The Marshals begin to wonder whether this is a larger conspiracy than they ever could have imagined – but Teddy’s personal quest prohibits him from leaving the island. He’s certain the arsonist he has been hunting is an inmate of Ashecliffe, and he is determined to find him. Assuming he lives long enough to discover his whereabouts: because the longer Teddy and Chuck are on the island, the more it feels like they’re guinea pigs in a spectacular psychological experiment.

Lehane is a master of the give and take. Revelations are quickly followed up by blockades and wild swerves. Just as Teddy begins to question reality, so do the readers. It’s a dangerous game Lehane plays, and a fine balancing act, because lean too far one way and the plot becomes impossibly unwieldy. And just when you think he’s corkscrewed Shutter Island to the nth degree, he delivers one final twist.

Meticulous and exhilarating, Shutter Island is one of Lehane’s finest novels. I’m kicking myself I didn’t read it sooner, but simultaneously annoyed I can’t experience it for the first time again.

Review: The Drop by Dennis Lehane

The DropTHE DROP is taut and violent crime novel adapted from the screenplay Dennis Lehane wrote for the film of the same name, scheduled for release later this year. This would usually be a turn-off; I’m rarely a fan of book-to-film adaptations, let alone film-to-book. But this is Dennis Lehane, my of the finest contemporary crime writers; and there’s more to the development of this novel than I’d initially thought; in an interview with the Boston Globe, Lehane indicated the screenplay was inspired by one of his short stories, “ANIMAL RESCUE,” which itself was based on a book he had started, then shelved, more than a decade ago. With that in mind, assured this wasn’t a cash-grab, I bunkered down into the world of THE DROP – and what a dark, bloody and violent place it is.

The tagline for the novel is “a love story wrapped in a crime story wrapped in a journey of faith,” but I’m going to blunt that down and say this is a story about bad people living with the consequences of their choices; and in some cases, not living – but no spoilers here. The interconnected cast of characters in THE DROP includes a bartender, Bob, whose sullen and shy façade is not indicative of any sort of weakness, and whose discovery of an malnourished puppy is the spark that ignites the plot alongside the decision by two stick-up artists who intend on ripping off the Chechen Mafia; his cousin, Marv, who once ran the bar, back when he was a respected figure in the Boston underworld; a damaged woman, whose role is more integral than that of a mere love interest; a cop whose transgressions have stalled his career and left him in a bad place, personally and professionally; a crook named Eric Deeds; and ruthless Chechen Mafia enforcers.

THE DROP clocks in at a little more than 200 pages; it’s tightly plotted and stripped of the clutter that often bogs down crime novels. At no point does it feel like a screenplay adorned with descriptions, nor a novel pared down for the sake of expediency; THE DROP is a fine crime novel in its own right, which so happens to be tied to a film release. It is a quick, impactful read; not as layered as Lehane’s other work, but a worthy addition to his library.

As always, I recommend reading the book before seeing the film.

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.