Monday, September 5, 2011

The Kenzie and Gennaro novels, by Denis Lehane

Dennis Lehane needs a hug.  This is the conclusion I came to when I got halfway through the third novel of his that I read.  After reading Gone, Baby, Gone, I got a desire to read the rest of the novels Lehane had written in his Kenzie/Gennaro series.  After a trip to Chapters (and thank God they were having a good sale this weekend), I picked up the other five books that follow the lives of Lehane’s private investigators.  I loved the books so much, that all I needed was two and a half days to finish them off.

The whole run of books (A Drink Before the War, Darkness Take My Hand, Sacred, Gone Baby Gone, Prayers for Rain, and Moonlight Mile) are great reads.  Invested with a sense of humour, populated by rich (and often loveable) characters, and blessed with fast-paced and engaging plots, Lehane’s works are fantastic reads, and I recommend them to everyone.  The names seemed painfully corny to me when I was picking them up, but they are pulled from the actual dialogue of the books themselves, and once read in context that corn-factory disappears.  It’s a mark of how good of an author that Lehane is that he’s able to make me put aside my cynicism and get over that detail.

However, there are common elements within each work that leads me to believe that Lehane needs that hug.  Kenzie and Gennaro have the worst luck when it comes to the cases they pull, because most of them involve child exploitation in one form or another.  And if it’s not child exploitation, the stories revolve around some form of human depravity.  Inevitably, by the end of the book, Kenzie (who is the voice of all the novels), if forced to confront himself and evaluate whether or not he can live with what he sees in his job, or if it’s all too much of him.  If I hadn’t read all these books back to back to back, these common devices might not have been so obvious, but I did, and they were – and it didn’t really detract from my enjoyment of the reads at all.

The first five books were written in the early to late 1990s, then, Lehane took an eleven-year break and wrote other works (such as Shutter Island and Mystic River).  After eleven years, Lehan acknowledged the time jump and set his latest Kenzie/Gennaro novel in 2010.  Now married and with a child, our private investigators are no longer willing to take cases that easily turn into deadly situations, and for a variety of reasons are struggling financially.  The last case Kenzie takes (and Gennaro assists on) is almost a sequel to Gone, Baby, Gone, in which Kenzie is once again asked to find Amanda McCready – now 16 and once again missing.  The problem is that Kenzie (a husband and father, and in his 40s) has lost his nerve.  Completely understandable, and had Lehane pretended that a character like Kenzie was still willing to engage in reckless behaviour like he had in his youth, he would have lost me.  The problem then lies (for the reader) in the decline of the quality of actions the main character is ready to take.  But, like I said, it’s completely understandable, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Moonlight Mile is like a catch-up episode of a beloved TV series.  It allows you to see where your favorite characters ended up long after the cameras stopped rolling.  But, just like A Very Brady Christmas, the characters have changed more than a little and something seems odd and a little off.  I’m super glad that Lehane chose to write this book because I love knowing that Kenzie and Gennaro are settling down to a normal life together.  BUT, I don’t want him to write another one.  I want the characters to stand as the 20- and 30-somethings that could take a beating one night, knock back and obscene amount of alcohol to dull the pain, and then get up the next morning to hunt down sociopaths.  Neither of them could do that with a four year-old at home, and neither character wants too (which, again, is fantastic).  I think Lehane has tapped out this story line and needs to put it to bed.  Let the characters and previous works stand as is, and start over with new ones because, believe me, his readers will follow.

All in all, I highly recommend all of Lehane’s works, but particularly the Kenzie/Gennaro books.  I’m sure these will be books that I come back to again in the future when looking for a face-paced and enjoyable read.  The subject matter can be dark (and, seriously, someone give Lehane a hug already!), but it reads very human and sincere, and what more can you ask for in a crime novel? 

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