If I had to choose one adjective to describe Dennis Lehane’s writing, I think it would be “devastating”. His style is devastatingly good, honed until there’s not a spare word. His characters are flawed and even those who are friends and lovers damage each other in a way that is devastating to read. Most of all, his dark view of the world is devastating, because it has that ring of truth that makes it impossible to believe this is fiction. Lehane is never comfortable reading.
Gone Baby Gone is the another in the series featuring Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro, PIs whose patch is the dark side of Boston. This book doesn’t stick to the drugs, guns and gangs of earlier books, but ventures into the world of child abductions and the horrific things that people do to children. After a child vanishes and Kenzie and Gennaro are brought in, the mystery seems to be resolving itself around halfway through the book. Then the plot does one of those mad hairpin turns and suddenly the only thing that is certain is that the original solution is no longer correct. Things gradually unravel and the results are devastating – that word again – for all involved.
I’ve heard arguments that crime fiction is really where we, as a society, grapple with those heavy issues to which there seems to be no solution. Gone Baby Gone, like many of Lehane’s books, plays out the tension between law and justice. Kenzie and Gennaro work with the police but the temptation to mete out vigilante justice is always there, especially when crimes against children are involved. Kenzie’s anguished searching of his conscience reflects perfectly the moral fog we seem up against, when there is no right answer and everyone loses no matter what happens.
So, this is not the kind of book you might read to cheer yourself up, or to convince yourself that people are fundamentally good and kind. Lehane clearly doesn’t think they are, and the book puts a convincing case that – as Kenzie might say – we’ve screwed up our society good and proper. For all that, it’s a brilliant book and a masterclass in crime writing. Like a car crash, you almost can’t look away.