For many years crime fiction fans have clamored for the return of Patrick Kenzie & Angela Gennaro, Dennis Lehane's private-eye duo first introduced in 1994's A DRINK BEFORE THE WAR and stars of four subsequent novels. But Lehane, understandably, had bigger things on his mind, and based on the success and critical reception of MYSTIC RIVER (2001) SHUTTER ISLAND (2003) and his 700-plus page historical epic, THE GIVEN DAY (2008), it didn't appear Patrick & Angie would be coming back. There are several interviews that explain why, but here's a sample answer he gave to the Drood Review in 2002 on the question of when, if ever, they would reappear:
I think Spade and Marlowe remain icons because they didn?t wear out their welcome. Would Chandler be Chandler if he'd written 18 Marlowe books? I don?t know, but I wonder. Maybe Chandler could have sustained the level of quality, but the issue is more whether I can. And I have my doubts about that. The only artsy, metaphysical aspect of my approach to writing is that I can only write about characters when they come knocking on the door and tell me to. Patrick and Angie stopped knocking after Prayers for Rain. If they come knocking again, I?ll open the door and welcome them in with open arms because, well, they paid for my house and I?m exceedingly grateful. But if they don;t, then I'll be content to let them live happily ever after without my dropping another case-from-hell in their laps. They deserve that.
As of today, that line of thinking has reversed itself with the publication of MOONLIGHT MILE. Patrick and Angie are, indeed, back. They've grown older, not always wiser, with a child to raise and way too much debt. But as I explain in the Los Angeles Times, going back to them poses something of a double-edged sword for Lehane. There's forward progression, but there's also nostalgia. There are parts of the book that are wonderful and other parts less so. And since 700 words wasn't really enough to do my feelings proper justice, a little more explanation may be in order - admittedly, a dangerous exercise for a reviewer.
Halfway through college in the late 1990s was when I became a serious crime fiction reader. I'd read haphazardly before then, of both contemporary and classic writers, but only around late 1998/early 1999 did I discover the writers who meant the most to me and who were really on the leading edge of where the genre was supposed to be, people like Robert Crais, Lee Child, Harlan Coben, Michael Connelly, Laura Lippman, the Tart Noir gang (Lauren Henderson, Katy Munger, Stella Duffy, Sparkle Hayter, et al.) and Dennis Lehane.
But as good as those authors were at the time, it's been wonderful to watch them all evolve, both critically and commercially. How many people had a real sense that the Laura Lippman who wrote IN BIG TROUBLE would later produce psychologically acute standalone novels like EVERY SECRET THING, WHAT THE DEAD KNOW and I'D KNOW YOU ANYWHERE? Harlan Coben hadn't even written his breakout book, TELL NO ONE, yet, let alone carved out his own niche of domestic-tinged suspense thrillers. Child, Connelly and Crais were bestsellers of varying degrees, but nowhere close to being the perennial inhabitants of the top spots as they are now. Tart Noir is a faded memory now, but I would make the argument for their influence on what types of crime novels women can, do and should produce.
The same goes for Lehane. It was very clear he was destined to write greater things, based in large part on what he had produced with GONE, BABY GONE. PRAYERS FOR RAIN was fun, but also very much the work of, as he's described it often, someone needing to "crank out a book." And then came MYSTIC RIVER, the same month that both Michael Connelly and George Pelecanos published books (A DARKNESS MORE THAN NIGHT and RIGHT AS RAIN, respectively) and the new century in the genre really started to take shape.
So reading MOONLIGHT MILE was like time-travel. And it was nice, in a way, to revisit my early 20s, the promise and seemingly unlimited opportunities that those years represent, with so much latitude for trial and error. But obviously, I'm not in my 20s, and have happily moved on, learned from some mistakes and am doomed to repeat others in perpetuity.It's fine to look back; but I'd rather look forward.
And when it comes to my favorite writers, I am always asking, at the end of a new book, if there's a way for them to evolve further. THE GIVEN DAY, on top of SHUTTER ISLAND AND MYSTIC RIVER, was all about forward motion. MOONLIGHT MILE, while not exactly a step backwards, doesn't quite fit with the upwards trending line, even as it acknowledges changes in Patrick & Angie and Lehane himself, who's now put down more roots in Florida and has a child of his own.
So that underlying thinking is why I closed my review like this: "MOONLIGHT MILE is akin to that 10th-anniversary school reunion: old acquaintances to catch up with, old enemies to ignore or reevaluate, and lots of alcohol served up at the cash bar across the room. After the festivities end, it's time to get on with the business of day-to-day adulthood — and for Lehane to continue the forward motion promised by his most recent, more ambitious works."
I am, however, looking forward to what commentary will be generated within the crime fiction community. There's already plenty of coverage of MOONLIGHT MILE, including:
- Janet Maslin's rave in the NYT
- More reviews by the Cleveland Plain-Dealer, Irish Voice Central, USA TODAY, and the Contra Costa Times
- Q&As with New York Magazine, Washington Post Express Night Out, and the Boston Herald
And no doubt there will be much more to come.