One of Dennis Lehane’s secret weapons as a crime novelist is his readability. The genre as a whole is supposed to be accessible, but there is a literary divide separating the mass-market product pushers from the genre’s living masters. So while Lehane can’t effortlessly deliver a lesson in urban street history through a dialogue exchange like Richard Price or write with the stylistic poetry of Megan Abbott, his novels move with an accruing momentum without ever turning into airport fiction claptrap. And Moonlight Mile – his 10th book, sixth in his Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro serial – starts at a good clip and accelerates as it progresses.
Mile is a sequel, of sorts, to 1998’s Gone, Baby, Gone, in which the Boston private investigative duo of Irish-American Kenzie and Italian-American Gennaro are hired by a working-class woman to find her niece, 4-year-old Amanda McCready. They do, and in the process all but pull the pin on their hand grenade of a relationship, as doing the right thing by the law doesn’t feel at all like doing the right thing by conscience.
Lehane’s other secret weapon is his ability to recognize the gulf that sometimes separates the social right from the moral one. Twelve years after Gone, Patrick and Angie are married and have a young daughter of their own, though they’re struggling through these economic times. Patrick works here and there for a high-end security firm, and what he’s had to do for the company frequently makes him feel ill. He’s being teased with the chance for full-time employment when Amanda’s aunt approaches him again to say that the now 16-year-old young woman has gone missing again, and she wants Patrick to find her. Again.
Lehane doesn’t let that coincidental groaner of a setup derail this superbly crafted mystery. As Patrick – and eventually, Angie – talk to people to find out what sort of teenager Amanda has become (answer: almost frighteningly intelligent, self-composed and assured) in order to determine where she may be, Lehane allows Patrick to reflect on his own life choices: as a parent, as a husband, as the man he is and the man he may yet still want to be. No longer in his 30s, Patrick isn’t the street tough he once was, but he can still take a hit pretty well and return the favor if pushed. He’d much rather rely on his wits though.
What Angie and Patrick discover is that Amanda’s mother and her real upright citizen of a new boyfriend have gotten themselves in up to their eyeballs with the wrong sort of Russian mob boss (is there any other kind?), and the investigation hurls them headlong into an illegal adoption ring, identity theft and a sacred Belarus cross.
Mile’s best aspects, as in the crime fiction of Irishman Declan Hughes, are Lehane’s reflections on what people are willing to do for money. Theft and robbery are crime fiction staples, but the genre doesn’t always address money head on – how it affects people’s daily lives, how needing it makes them do things they wouldn’t normally do that aren’t against the law, how chasing value is something that begins to erode values. And in Mile, Lehane lets his recurring private investigator, the genre’s bread and butter for serial longevity, think long and hard about getting out of the game because he can’t take it anymore: “It’s not that people fuck each other over for a million dollars that depresses me, it’s that they do it for 10.” A streamlined descent into the shitty way poor life choices can concatenate through generations, Moonlight Mile finds Lehane turning crime fiction into something much more soul satisfying: a thrilling treatise on ending that cycle of living to work and finding the grace to start working to live.
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