Monday, December 06, 2010

Book: Moonlight Mile, by Dennis Lehane (2010)

If you’re going to take time off, you might as well be productive. In the eleven years since the last Kenzie/Gennaro book Dennis Lehane has had an astonishing run, writing Mystic River, Shutter Island and The Given Day. Now he returns to the characters that made his name.

Lehane is too good and too serious a writer to phone it in. Changes have happened in the intervening decade. Some familiar faces are long gone. Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro are now married and raising a daughter in Boston – because honestly, where else could they live? Angie’s no longer a private investigator while Patrick does dispiriting freelance work in the hope of getting hired on at a big security firm. A sly reversal in the opening chapter nicely establishes Patrick’s diminished expectations.

Then Amanda McCready goes missing again, and once more Patrick is asked to find her. Their paths crossed in Gone, Baby, Gone, the consequences from that case nearly driving Patrick and Angie apart and haunting Kenzie still.

Revisiting the series’ strongest book is a risky gambit that calls to mind another Boston crime writer, Robert B. Parker, whose P.I. Spenser came to the aid of troubled young April Kyle more than once. Moonlight Mile’s plot, involving identity theft, Russian gangsters and a stolen artifact, is busy and none too tightly packed; Kenzie is more witness than protagonist by the end. Lehane’s real focus is on aging, the compromises we make as we grow older, and learning to “love the things that chafe.” There’s some similarity with the later films of Clint Eastwood, who directed the Oscar-winning adaptation of Mystic River, in terms of how a man of violence deals with the fallout from his actions.

Anyone unfamiliar with Patrick and Angie won’t understand the big deal here; anyone who has read the earlier books will relish a chance to hang out with them again. Because that’s essentially what you’re doing, hanging out. Moonlight Mile is like catching up with an old high school friend you encounter by chance. The conversation is rushed and covers a lot of ground. But when it’s over you hope you run into each other again, and more regularly.