Book review: Moonlight Mile by Dennis Lehane

Moonlight Mile
by Dennis Lehane
Little, Brown, 2010
Kenzie & Gennaro #6

Private Investigator Patrick Kenzie and his partner Angie Gennaro featured in six Boston-set novels published between 1994 and 1999. After a gap of 11 years writing other books and screenplays, Dennis Lehane returns to his series characters who have now married and have a four-year-old daughter. Times are tough in the downtown, blue-collar Boston beloved of Kenzie, who is struggling to make ends meet since closing his PI enterprise. He does freelance work for a corporate giant of an insurance company, and is disgusted at himself as he’s now working on the wrong side of the moral divide. He has little choice, though, in the fractured landscape of USA today, where job security, medical insurance and pension benefits are non-existent for an increasing number of desperate people. Kenzie sticks it out because of his devotion to his wife and child, but is very much on the edge of internal meltdown as the novel opens.

So far, so good. The plot proper begins when Beatrice, a woman who sought Kenzie’s help in Gone, Baby, Gone (published in 1998) again seeks him out for a similar reason. The earlier book tells how Kenzie takes on a case for Beatrice, that of finding her missing six-year-old niece Amanda. Readers don’t need to be familiar with the earlier novel as they are updated here as to the outcome of that case and the guilt that Kenzie has felt since. The issue now is that Amanda, now 16, has vanished again – and Kenzie finds himself reluctantly committed to finding her one more time.

Although the book starts well with some interesting minor crimes and detection, it soon becomes bogged down by the presentational style, which is that Kenzie becomes involved in detailed conversations in each situation in which he finds himself on the hunt for Amanda. This device works well in some circumstances, for example when Kenzie interviews the girl’s teachers and fellow-students, but makes any dramatic tension run rapidly into the sands when it is used when Kenzie breaks into a house and is found by the presumed owner and then some Eastern European mobsters, and in every subsequent supposedly exciting or tense scenario thereafter.

Kenzie is a gullible sort, perhaps his brain is addled slightly by his devotion to his daughter (whose character borders on the Disney-esque) and wife. The plot turns out to be an odd mixture of the inventive and the predictable. Although this book is readable, as one would expect from such a respected author, full of witticisms and with various neat but tiny observations about modern American society, its plot is insufficiently credible or convincing for a detection/crime novel.

I borrowed this book from the library.

Other reviews of Moonlight Mile: The Guardian, The New York Times, The Independent (and many others).

Wikipedia: about the author, the Kenzie series in reading order and his other writing (for example, Shutter Island, Mystic River and some episodes of The Wire).