Dennis Lehane and why you should be reading him.
This isn’t so much a review as it is a community announcement.
For some reason, I was often asked last week what I was reading. And rather do what I normally would do, that is tell said person to piss off and leave me alone, I informed them I was reading Sacred by Dennis Lehane. Unfortunately, in most cases, both the book and the name meant nothing to the person asking the question. It wasn’t until I explained that Dennis Lehane also wrote Mystic River, that book which was turned into that fine Oscar Award winning film directed by everyone’s favourite codger, Clint Eastwood, (the book is better than the film, by the way, but not by much) that people started to nod knowingly.
I don’t expect Lehane to be a household name, at least not here in Australia. And I’m sure, in the US, Lehane is constantly stopped in the streets and asked for his autograph. Still, it would be rude of me if I didn’t do my duty as a reviewer and inform you, the unwashed ignorant masses out there, that Dennis Lehane is one hot writer.
Lehane writes crime novels. Like George Pelecanos (another brilliant crime writer) he is the natural heir to the pulp writers of yore – Chandler, Hammet, Cain and Thompson. Gritty, in your face writing, where the detectives or private investigators are surly brutal bastards with a perpetual five o’clock shadow and a penchant for sleazy bars and sleazier woman.
Well, actually, that’s a stereotype and also a cliché. What I’m trying to say, and not very accurately, is that Dennis Lehane would have fit in very well with the 50s noir movement.
His first five novels deal with the cases of two private investigators – Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro. Both Kenzie and Gennaro were brought up on the mean streets of Dorchester in Boston. Kenzie is a cynical bastard whose got the whole one liner action hero thing down pat. Gennaro, is very much the same, except in some respects she’s tougher than her partner and also much better looking (not that there’s pictures of her in the books, but Lehane makes it clear that Gennaro is one hot babe).
The stories are told through the eyes of Kenzie. The style is very conversational, with lots of swearing and witty observations of Boston. (Speaking of which, as in the best crime fiction, the setting is as much a character in the novels as the protagonists).
Because the writing is so colloquial, you immediately gain an insight into what makes Kenzie tick. And while he is a bit mucked up psychologically, he’s also a very sympathetic character, one who were happy to take the journey with – even if what we’re going to see is often dark and gory and disturbing.
I could go on. I could even review Sacred. But that would be a little pointless as it is the third book in the series. It’s probably not the strongest of the three I’ve read, but that’s mainly because it doesn’t have the same thematic depth as the other two. Sacred is more story driven with a plot so well constructed, so humming with twists and turns and revelations that you simply can’t put the bugger down.
But, if you do want to start reading Lehane, and seriously if you have any taste for crime fiction at all I recommend you do, then go and buy his first Gennaro Kenzie novel A Drink Before the War. You might have to buy it on Amazon, but I’m sure it’s available locally in Australia.