Mystic River: A Novel
When they were children, Sean Devine, Jimmy Marcus, and Dave Boyle were friends. But then a strange car drove up their street. One boy got in the car, two did not, and something terrible happened—something that ended their friendship and changed all three boys forever. Twenty-five years later, Sean is a homicide detective. Jimmy is an ex-con. And Dave is trying to hold his marriage together and keep his demons at bay-demons that urge him to do horrific things.
When Jimmy’s daughter is found murdered, Sean is assigned to the case. His investigation brings him into serious conflict with Jimmy. And then there is Dave, who came home covered in someone else’s blood the night Jimmy’s daughter died. While Sean attempts to use the law to return peace and order to the neighborhood, Jimmy finds his need for vengeance pushing him ever closer to a moral abyss from which he won’t be able to return.
A tense and unnerving psychological thriller, Mystic River is also an epic novel of love, loyalty, faith, and family.
Ever since blasting onto the literary scene with the Shamus Award-winning A Drink Before the War, Dennis Lehane has been the golden boy of noir. His Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro novels are marvels of tight pacing, dialogue so good it gets under your skin and stays there, with dead-on portrayals of working-class Boston neighborhoods. Sure, he’s the oft-proclaimed, hard-boiled heir to Hammett and Chandler, but Lehane also takes a page from the Hemingway school of hyper-intense writing. He pares away and pares away until he’s left with the absolute essentials—and then those essentials just explode off the page.
In his five Kenzie-Gennaro novels, the detective duo is at the nexus of Lehane’s big bang. Darkly funny and just this side of jaded, Angie and Patrick move through Dorchester’s bleak streets with an assurance born of familiarity. It’s impossible to imagine these streets without the pair, or to imagine the pair away from those streets. Mystic River, then, arrives as a bit of a gamble, as Lehane moves from the sharp edges of portraiture to the broader strokes of landscape. No Angie, no Patrick: this neighborhood is on its own. It’s not any prettier and certainly no friendlier, and its working-class façade still barely masks the irresistible tug of violent ways, means, and ends.
Twenty-five years ago, Dave Boyle got into a car. When he came back four days later, he was different in a way that destroyed his friendship with Sean Devine and Jimmy Marcus. Now Sean’s a cop, Jimmy’s a store owner with a prison record and mob connections, and Dave’s trying hard to keep his demons safely submerged. When Jimmy’s daughter Katie is found murdered, each of the men must confront a past that none is eager to acknowledge. Lehane tugs delicately on the strands that weave this neighborhood together, testing for their strengths and weaknesses; this novel seems as much anthropological case study as thriller.
By turns violent and pensive, Mystic River is vintage Lehane. How good is it? You may go in missing Angie and Patrick, but after a few pages you won’t even realize they’re gone. Lehane’s noir is still black magic. —Kelly Flynn
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After publishing five books in the popular series featuring Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro, Dennis Lehane (A Drink Before the War, Prayers for Rain) has finally come into his own. With Mystic River, a passionate, ambitious novel of crime, punishment, and misplaced revenge, Lehane fulfills his early promise and takes his place as an important American writer.
Mystic River begins in 1975 in the blue-collar Boston community of East Buckingham. The defining event of the novel occurs when three young boys—Sean Devine, Jimmy Marcus, and Dave Boyle—encounter a pair of roving child molesters who pass themselves off as policemen. Two of the boys—Jimmy and Sean—escape, but ten-year-old Dave Boyle is not so fortunate and finds himself trapped in a four-day ordeal that changes his life forever.
Lehane then moves the narrative forward to a critical week in the summer of 2000. Sean Devine is now a homicide investigator for the Massachusetts State Police. His marriage has recently ended, and both his personal and professional lives are in disarray. The charismatic Jimmy Marcus is an ex-con who has opted for the straight life and is raising a family and working as the proprietor of a local mom-and-pop grocery. Dave Boyle, whose life peaked during his glory days as a high school baseball star, is a husband and father who has drifted through a series of dead-end jobs and is struggling continuously with the poisonous impulses that are the primary legacy of his abduction.
The lives of these men converge once again when Katie Marcus, Jimmy’s oldest daughter, is murdered. As Jimmy grieves and plots revenge, Sean initiates a wide-ranging investigation that gradually illuminates the entire social structure of East Buckingham, a working-class neighborhood with its own peculiar history, myths, and tribal rituals. The investigation also raises troubling questions about the possible involvement of the deeply damaged Dave Boyle, whose path crossed Katie’s on the night of her death. Dave’s mysterious behavior and contradictory accounts of his actions make him a highly plausible suspect and set the stage for a violent—and ironic—denouement.
Mystic River is both a murder mystery and a novel of character. Like the very best fiction, it is, in the end, about many things: grief, sin, karma, hope and the lack of hope, the inevitability of change, the primal importance of family ties, the vulnerability of children, and the countless ways in which past events continue to influence the present. However you choose to read it, Mystic River is a deeply felt, beautifully composed novel by a gifted young writer who keeps getting better and who is helping to set the standards by which 21st-century crime fiction will ultimately be judged.—Bill Sheehan
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