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The Very Best of Mr. Dennis Lehane

I thought this post would appear in October. Ya, know when SHUTTER ISLAND: THE MOVIE was supposed to be released. And then it wasn't. Something about Leo not being able to do 'press' for the movie. Doesn't really matter the reason, a February release date has one of those fancy Hollywood meanings: Not Good.

Look I'll be honest, I didn't connect with SHUTTER ISLAND. I loved the fifties setting, the haunted house atmosphere, and impending doom of the Hurricane. Even the set-up of the story was intriguing but how it played out just didn't work for me. Some interesting characters, a bunch of great set pieces, but the ending announces itself with an expected, thud that went nowhere.

Am I still going to the movie? Its Lehane, Scorsese, Leo, and Ruffalo of course I am. Anyway the list.

8. Prayers for Rain - 1999
The last Kenzie-Gennaro book follows our heroes as they investigate a guy who is terrorizing women into committing suicide. The book played like an episode of THE EQUALIZER, and was devoid of a lot of tension or conflict. Kenzie-Gennaro always come through in the end, but the scale of justice usually balances in blood with Mr. Lehane's stories. This book was no different but the immediacy of action and the writing was pretty flat here. I have to feel that Mr. Lehane was really feeling the stress of the yearly turnaround for a book. In fact this is the last book to be written without significant break in between.

7. Sacred - 1997
Tough book. DARKNESS, TAKE MY HAND is just a phenomenal book that this book seemed destined to disappoint. What was most memorable about this book was how these two PIs put their lives back together after the wake of the previous novel's events. I almost wish Mr. Lehane had gone standalone here. The distance of time could have served this book better.

6. Shutter Island - 2003
Shouldn't this be last? You would think, given what I wrote at the top, but there are too many good elements to ignore in this book. The fact that it didn't came together seems in retrospect only a minor disappointment. Anyway, minor Lehane is still fantastic; better than almost anybody else.

5. A Drink Before the War - 1994
My memory of this book was that it didn't quite work. The characters weren't fully formed. It was rough. The story didn't engage with me. I was left with two things. One is a scene where Patrick is chasing after a bad guy who is also black. Patrick starts to curse him, yelling the N-word. I thought it was a balls out moment, that really showed a lot of courage for a young writer. The second thing was that at the end of the book I knew that Dennis Lehane was going to be gigantic. I had no reason to read the next book, but I knew this guy was going to pull off a great run of books.

4. The Given Day - 2008
This is the book that I have had the most trouble placing. It either comes before or after MYSTIC RIVER. The audacity of the book is exciting. The confidence of the storytelling real shows. Some authors never learn the crafting of story telling, they just know when to plug in the appropriate plot devices. Mr. Lehane's writing is always fresh, immediate and organic. I can't help feeling that I will appreciate this book more as the trilogy plays out.

3. Mystic River - 2001
The overpraised movie colors my perception of the book. This is the most haunting book he has written. The abduction sequence where one boy is chosen and the other two are left behind might be the best thing that Mr. Lehane has ever written. What was it about Dave the caused him to be picked and not his friends? One of the great things about this book is that Mr. Lehane has the guts to ask the question and leave it unanswered and unknown, like most of the mysteries of our life.

2. Darkness, Take My Hand - 1996
This is hands down Dennis Lehane's masterpiece, but that doesn't mean it is his best book. Odd logic, I know. In the Kenzie-Gennaro story arc this book casts a long shadow. The tendrils of what happens here leaks into every subsequent book, every subsequent page. The evil on display here is so believably banal that it shook my belief in the goodness of humanity. Devastating, haunting. A gorgeous work of human horror.

1. Gone Baby Gone - 1998
Quite simple this has the most devastating ending in crime fiction I think I have ever read. I think about the end of the book often, and it challenges the very notion of what is right. Not only are these concepts ultimately unknowable, but in the case GBG which ever side you fall on, you will be wrong.


simon said…
Thanks. A good read. I have been working my way backwards with Dennis Lehane's books.

They are all absolutely brilliant. Still got Prayers for Rain, and A drink before the war to go.

Near the end of dARKNESS at the moment, agree totally with your comments.

Patrick, Angie and Bubba are fast closing in on my all time favs, Charlie Parker, Angel and Louis.
crunknasty said…
Not a bad list. Though I respectfully disagree about Prayers for Rain. I thought that book was phenomenal. The chess game analogy was poignant not only as a theme, but also as a declaration that only a master of his craft could weave a yarn like that.

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