Reviewed by Mac M.

The human spirit is a study in contradiction. Capable in the same instant of honor or evil, little portends which path anyone chooses from one second to the next. The rich, gray space in between these extremes makes life interesting and informs great story telling. Few modern-day authors understand that gray world better than Dennis Lehane. Lehane can toss moral certainty into chaos quicker than anyone writing these days. With a unique gift for highlighting the thinly veiled ambiguities of social custom, any seemingly well-settled value, no matter the origin, is at risk under his gaze.

As the certain heir to Dashiell Hammet and Mickey Spillane, Lehane introduced Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro in A Drink Before the War, the debut installment of his wildly popular mystery series. Deeply rooted in the immigrant-infused, blue-collar culture of South Boston, Kenzie and Gennaro are hip and edgy, quick to violence; like Spade and Hammer before them, they inhabit a vacuum where their actions cannot be judged by any unifying principal outside of a sense of personal independence and blind loyalty to a select group of friends. Kenzie and Gennaro’s interactions with a wide-ranging cast of colorful and eccentric characters allows Lehane to comment on the current state of racial and economic politics with a rare, if dangerous, frankness that echoes the moral ambiguity of classic noir fiction.

In the latest, and perhaps last, episode in the Kenzie/Gennaro series, Moonlight Mile, the detective duo is enlisted to find Amanda McCready for the second time in their careers. The earlier Gone, Baby, Gone chronicled the disappearance of four-year-old Amanda when her drunk of a mother left the child alone in an unlocked apartment. Kenzie and Gennaro eventually learn that Amanda was kidnapped by a group of Boston cops dedicated to reallocating neglected children without the state’s involvement. The pair must return Amanda to an obviously unfit and abusive biological mother or leave her with a loving family who kidnapped her and murdered to cover it up. The decision shatters several lives.

[amazonify]0061836923[/amazonify]With Moonlight Mile, twelve years have passed, and Kenzie and Gennaro have grown tired of the danger and chaos of their younger days. Edging toward mainstream, they are now parents and are both pursuing safer, more mundane careers. But in Amanda’s second disappearance, Kenzie and Gennaro see an opportunity to right the wrongs of their earlier choices, even if it means being sucked back into a world of indiscriminate violence and unaccountable pain.

As with the other novels in the series, Moonlight Mile is a subtle and measured study on the complexities and contradictions of the human condition. The writing is a grade above most mystery writing; it is literary and intelligent without pretension. The book’s only failing is Lehane’s primary weakness in all of the episodes in the series: he sometimes forces a super-criminal or a twist-infused plot into an otherwise realistic and thought-provoking story. Save for about five pages, Moonlight Mile never stretches the boundaries of plausibility. But in those five pages, a sixteen-year-old girl is uncovered as a psychopathic master-mind only Ian Flemming could have imagined.

Bottom Line: Lehane writes with a talent few other mystery authors possess. Forgive his occasional lapse into thriller pulp and delight in his mastery and reinvention of classic noir.

Rating: 4 ½ bones!!!!!
Every year I read at least one mystery series in total. This year, it was Dennis Lehane’s Kenzie/Gennaro series. For those interested, I’ve included a short comment on each of the entries in the series.

A Drink Before the War

Bottom Line: A superb neo-noir mystery that confronts the corruption of modern civilization in a realistic and honest way. A compelling introduction to Lehane’s mystery series.

Rating: 5 bones!!!!!

Darkness, Take My Hand

Bottom Line: A disappointing continuation of the series, as Lehane’s superior story-telling takes a bit of a back seat to the sensational and the bloody in following a serial killer. Read it to keep up with Kenzie and Gennaro.

Rating: 4 bones!!!!


Bottom Line: Two super-criminals at war against each other, leaving Kenzie and Gennaro in the middle. Lehane seems more interested in plot-building, as the twists and turns in the book seem to serve no other purpose. Ultimately, the growth of Kenzie and Gennaro as people and as characters saves the book from itself.

Rating: 3 ½ bones!!!!

Gone, Baby, Gone

Bottom Line: Kenzie and Gennaro try to find a missing girl. Lehane is at his morally ambiguous best; he challenges everything you think you believe in. Gone, Baby, Gone fulfills the promise of the debut in this series. A favorite read for the year.

Rating: 5 bones!!!!!

Prayers for Rain

Bottom Line: Adrift, Kenzie tries to reconnect to his life and his partner while trying to explain the suicide of a client. Grade-A writing and superior story-telling, even if the ending seems a little forced.

Rating: 4 bones!!!!

Mac M., aka blackdogbooks on Librarything, lives in the American Southwest and works in law enforcement.

This book was provided free of any obligation by William Morrow. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.