Little, Brown, £16.99, 342pp. £15.29 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030
Moonlight Mile, By Dennis Lehane
Friday 18 February 2011
We expect the private eye to act a little like God, punishing the guilty and rescuing the virtuous – that is the brief writers like Hammett and Chandler gave their creations. Flawed men and women they may be, but we expect that, by story's end, they will do the right thing.
But what if there is no right thing? What if all possible choices are bad? Dennis Lehane made his name with thrillers set in South Boston, featuring business and sexual partners Angie Rizzo and Patrick Kenzie. The fourth of these – Gone Baby Gone – was competently filmed by Ben Affleck. Other non-series thrillers by Lehane – Mystic River and Shutter Island - were filmed by Clint Eastwood and Martin Scorsese. Fine as his early books were, his move towards psychological thrillers, and to portraits of a community in both Mystic River and The Given Day, make his decision to go back to his series characters surprising – though, in the event, smart and necessary .
At the end of Gone Baby Gone, Patrick hands kidnapped child Amanda back to her mother. But the mother is feckless and the kidnappers, who serve long jail terms, had the most moral of intentions. His relationship with Angie collapsed and only gradually recovered. Here Amanda, now a bright teenager, disappears again and Patrick is threatened by criminals to keep him from showing an interest.
These days he has something to lose – he and Angie have a child and he is struggling to keep his firm above water, working as a sub-contractor for an agency that cleans up messes for rich people. Psychotic Russian gangsters are on Amanda's trail: men handy with acetylene torches as well as guns. Patrick took responsibility for Amanda's life 12 years ago, and his belief that he did the right thing then makes him determined to do it now.
Moonlight Mile is an excellent thriller because it takes its competent hero and heroine and puts them out of their depth. The very integrity with which they approach life – and their sense that victims and villains can be told apart – makes them vulnerable. Lehane is as skilful as ever with plot, action and an evocative sense of Boston's suburbs, but the real strength of this coda to a series lies in the way it interrogates and subverts the values on which the books – and their genre – are built.
Who, in the end, makes the private detective God? And how is his sense of mission to be distinguished from the sense of entitlement of a seedy lecher and a self-help guru, or the Machiavellian drive of an ambitious mobster? The consensual reality of this sort of thriller – Lehane seems to be arguing – can only take too much contact with serious thought.
Roz Kaveney's 'Superheroes!' is published by IB Tauris
MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word
Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 'Kidnapped boy may have been abused and murdered by VIP paedophile ring,' say police
- 2 Ridley Scott on Exodus, Gods and Kings casting: 'I'm not going to get it financed if my lead actor is Mohammad so-and-so from such-and-such'
- 3 Girl, 7, gets Tesco to remove 'stupid' sign suggesting superheroes are 'for boys'
- 4 This letter from a reader explains why women can’t play football
- 5 'You should come to my house and eat cheeses with me': 4-year-old sends adorable love letter to girl at school
I'm A Celebrity 2014: Jungle security stepped up after murder and 'suspicious death' close to camp
This house and dental clinic 'piled up like bricks on the brink of collapsing' is why Japan wins at architecture
Ridley Scott on Exodus, Gods and Kings casting: 'I'm not going to get it financed if my lead actor is Mohammad so-and-so from such-and-such'
Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking Lana Del Rey rape video
There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
Ukip says babies born to immigrants in the UK should be classed as migrants – which would include Nigel Farage’s own children
Rochester by-election: Ukip gains second MP as Tory defector Mark Reckless holds seat
'Beast of Bolsover' Dennis Skinner takes Ukip MP Mark Reckless to task moments after he is sworn in
The young are the new poor: Sharp increase in number of under-25s living in poverty, while over-65s are better off than ever
Tamir Rice: 12-year-old boy playing with fake gun dies after being shot by Ohio police
Bollywood actress Veena Malik sentenced to 26 years in jail for blasphemy after appearing in mock TV wedding scene