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).

19 thoughts on “Book review: Moonlight Mile by Dennis Lehane

  1. Although I liked Gone, Baby, Gone, and was eager to read this book, I was sorely disappointed with it. The plot strained credibility, as you point out. Lehane is a good writer. I’m not sure why this happened, unless he couldn’t figure out a believable way to handle the sequel. I found myself thinking I was reading a different author’s book, rife with mobsters and other wacky plot developments. The story could have gone in other directions, more in keeping with book one.

    • Yes, I was disappointed too, Kathy, as I’d quite liked Gone Baby Gone & others. This one seemed to pick up & put down so many ideas, and really, the number of silly things Kenzie does (& therefore ends up in sticky situations) is unbelievable. Also that scene with the train near the end – what?! I just cannot envisage how that was supposed to have happened.

      Also, not the author’s business of course, but the publishers – yet another cover with the rear view of a man – couldn’t they think of something more original?

  2. I feel like a heretic whenever I say this but I am not a fan of Lehane’s writing (I read Mystic bloody River in my pre blog days otherwise there’d have been a rant waiting for a law suit). Sorry you didn’t enjoy it though at least it was only a library book.

    • he’s such a curate’s egg. Shutter Island for example was gripping for the first half and then had the worst cheat twist I’ve ever read, I think. Mystic River was OK-ish but far too long, I recall. I read several of the Angie/Patrick books and while they were OK (this one is very weak) I have never “got” the adulation. I like The Wire, though 😉 (apparently, according to Wikipedia, he only wrote about 3 eps, I had thought it was more than that as he is so often billed as a writer of The Wire).

      • he must have really good “people” to ensure his name is so closely intertwined with The Wire. Maybe I should get me some “people” 🙂

        • Oh no, Bernadette, you are the opposite of a “people person” (in the best possible sense of the phrase!)

  3. Maxine – Sorry to hear this one disappointed you, especially since it has such a connection to Gone Baby Gone, which I did like. I always did wonder how Amanda would fare after the events of that novel and the concept of a follow-up is interesting. Pity it didn’t work out as well as it could have for you. Maybe I’ll wait – a while – on this one…

    • Thanks, Margot. One of the disappointing aspects of this book is the flatness of Amanda’s character – a cursory portrayal of a complex (we are told) person.

      • Oh, that’s even more disappointing then! One would have hoped for something richer and more complex given her situation *sigh.*

  4. Like Bernadette, Lehane’s writing has never really done it for me although I quite enjoyed Mystic River. As usual this is an excellent review Maxine but I don’t think you’ve managed to tempt me into reading the book.

  5. Well, I’m a huge Dennis Lehane fan but this book was a disappointment. He’s done better but then with the crowd here that’s only my opinion naturally 🙂

    • All views warmly welcome here, Keishon 😉 Thanks for commenting. I was sorry not to like this one more as I was predisposed to like it.

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  7. I’ve read Mystic River and the first Kenzie book, but I don’t particularly remember them (and I haven’t rushed to read more) although I am a big fan of The Wire too. Re: The Wire– I remember reading or seeing some interview about the show that makes me want to read Richard Price’s stuff more than Lehane’s. Price was responsible for a few very good episodes (the end of Wallace), which sounds promising.

  8. Maxine: I read Mystic River years and years ago. I remember finding it so bleak I did not think I wanted to read more Lehane. Is the current book as dark as I remember Mystic River?

    • Thanks for your comment, Bill. No, this book is not particularly dark, though I agree that Mystic River was very depressing. Gone Baby Gone had its moments of being dark/upsetting but frankly Moonlight Mile has an air of “just going through the paces” – hard to get involved in the plot. But nothing nasty about any of it.

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