Review: Dennis Lehane's 'Moonlight Mile'


Moonlight Mile, bestselling Irish American author Dennis Lehane’s shattering sequel to Gone, Baby, Gone, heralds the long–awaited return of private investigators Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro for another thrill ride. CAHIR O’DOHERTY explores the characters and plot twists that make Lehane’s latest thriller his best yet.

Sometimes a book’s sequel completely surpasses the original. Moonlight Mile (William Morrow), which goes on sale on November 2, is Irish American author Dennis Lehane’s long-awaited follow up to his New York Times bestseller Gone, Baby, Gone, and although it’s taken over a decade to appear in print, once you settle down with it you’ll realize that it’s been entirely worth the wait.
It’s vintage stuff this, another dark but absurdly enjoyable tale that’s so beautifully written and so sharp in its details and atmosphere that it’s no wonder Lehane’s books attract filmmakers with such ease.

In Gone, Baby, Gone, the book that went on to became one of the best thrillers of the past decade, four-year-old Amanda McCready disappears from a Boston apartment, and the trail eventually leads the hard-bitten private investigators Patrick Kenzie and Angela Genarro to take on the case. But the pair risks everything for the girl only to have her returned, in the end, to a neglectful mother and a broken home. As endings go, it’s not exactly feel good.

In Moonlight Mile, Lehane’s fast paced and often frightening sequel, we meet Amanda once again, but this time she’s 16. Despite her bad start in life, she’s turned into a brilliant young woman -- but it’s not long before Amanda’s aunt is knocking on Kenzie’s door, when Amanda goes missing without a trace for two weeks.

Lehane’s daring here-we-go-again plot device is one that most writers might run from. But Moonlight Mile doesn’t just work -- it hands-on-heart surpasses Gone, Baby, Gone in both in its provocative subject matter and its treatment. Moonlight Mile simply gets inside your head, asking heartbreaking questions and making its two all too human heroes confront impossible choices along the way.

The new book also pulses with Lehane’s love of Boston.  The son of two hard working Irish immigrants, Lehane, 45, grew up in Dorchester, and he knows the blue collar South Boston Irish neighborhood like the back of his hand.

His father was a foreman for Sears & Roebuck and his mother worked in a Boston public school cafeteria. From day one he had no illusions about who he was or what life had in store for him.

But when he discovered his talent for writing, he found a way to shape his future that he never anticipated. It’s no wonder he’s been so driven to succeed.

Looking back at his output over the past 10 years, Lehane’s list of novels read like a who’s who of many of the best thrillers of the decade -- Gone, Baby, Gone, Mystic River, Shutter Island and now Moonlight Mile. It’s a wonder that he and his wife Angie, who now divide their time between Boston and the Gulf Coast of Florida, ever have a moment for themselves.

Much of the surprising darkness of Lehane’s writing may be explained by his own past. Before becoming a full-time writer, Lehane worked as a counselor with mentally handicapped and abused children. That work gave him uncomfortable insights into the darkness that can envelop so many young lives, and that tragic and often terrifying note has been a consistent theme in his work to date.

Before he became a writer Lehane also held many of the signature blue collar Irish gigs like waiting tables, parking cars, driving stretch limos, working in bookstores and loading tractor-trailers. His one regret, he says, is that no one ever gave him a chance to tend bar. But it’s not likely that he needed to do the research, since he grew up surrounded by Irish pubs and their fast talking denizens in Dorchester.

“The world I grew up in had the most influence on my writing,” Lehane recently told the press. “It was very verbal and extremely comic in a gallows humor kind of way. It was also a world I didn't see too much of in books or film or TV and the few times I did see it, they tended to get it wrong.”

If you’ve read Gone, Baby, Gone or seen the film, you’ll know that Lehane gets the details of the world he’s writing about right. Especially when it comes to the very conflicting emotions of his central characters.

Taking on another missing Amanda case in Moonlight Mile is not something that Lehane’s detectives Kenzie and Gennaro, who are now married with a child of their own, do lightly.

This time, though, they vow to each other that the outcome will be different for the young woman whose safety they want to ensure. With the stakes this high, Lehane knows the reader will be immediately hooked.

And it’s not hard to see why Hollywood has become so enamored of each new Lehane book too, because the truth is that his cinematic writing already does most of the heavy lifting for them.