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: 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.