Current reviews
  Reviews by title
  Reviews by author

  Contact Onyx

  Discussion forum


Onyx reviews: Moonlight Mile by Dennis Lehane

It's been twelve years since Patrick Kenzie and his partner Angie Gennaro were hired to find missing four-year-old Amanda McCready. It has also been a dozen years since the publication of Gone, Baby, Gone, the novel that recounted those events.

Much has changed for Patrick and Angie since the most recent novel in the series, Prayers for Rain. After separating for a time, they're now married, struggling to make ends meet, and the parents of a precocious little girl named Gabriella who is the same age Amanda was when she went missing. Angie is no longer in the private detection business. She's a full-time mom taking night classes toward a masters in applied sociology. 

They resisted moving to the suburbs, where Patrick's irregular income might have stretched further. Patrick no longer runs his own agency because the cases that attracted him and Angie usually brought violence with them. The truth is that Angie was the more volatile, aggressive partner in the agency, a junkie to the rough stuff. Patrick doesn't have the stomach for that kind of work any more. He's now freelancing, which doesn't provide much-needed benefits like health care. He's hustling to get a permanent job with one of Boston's oldest investigative firms, but he is rough around the edges, refusing to kowtow to important clients, which makes him a potential liability.

Patrick made a controversial decision after he and Angie found Amanda. Everyone familiar with the case is quick to tell him that he did the right thing but he was also wrong. The work he's doing now has him facing similar ethical quandaries. He helps a business root out a whistle blower who had legitimate complaints about the company's actions. The results of his investigation got the woman fired, prosecuted, financially and personally ruined, defusing any harm she could do the company. Perhaps because of the beating his conscience took after the McCready affair, he's used to swallowing these moral dilemmas.

Amanda's aunt Beatrice gets in touch with Patrick to say that her niece, now sixteen going on seventeen, is missing again. No one else will listen to her, and police officers sent to the house to investigate her allegations find a teenager claiming to be Amanda. Though some of her statements prove to be lies, Beatrice reminds Patrick that he returned the girl to an unfit mother, who has since taken out a restraining order against Beatrice. Shortly after their meeting, Patrick is mugged, beaten and warned to stay away from Amanda's mother. He's tempted to turn down the case—there's no money in it, and they were never paid for their earlier work—but Angie browbeats him into taking it. It's their chance to make amends, she says. 

Everyone Patrick talks to tells the same story—Amanda is a remarkable, bright girl who has a great future, including Harvard or Yale, but no one truly seems to know her. She's smart but reserved and moody. She has only one friend, Sophie, and the dynamics of the relationship is clear to all: Sophie idolizes her friend and would give anything to be like her.

When she finally appears in person, Amanda is everything Patrick's been told and more. She resents him for what he did all those years ago, but she has taken deliberate and concerted steps to rise above her adverse upbringing. Perhaps the book's greatest weakness is that she seems a little too wise, resourceful and independent to be a credible sixteen year old.

As Patrick follows the trail, he stumbles upon identity thieves and Russian mobsters, none of whom are happy that a private detective is nosing around in their business. When the situation turns threatening, Momma Angie retreats to safety with her daughter and their criminal muscleman ally Bubba in tow. One of the book's great pleasures is Lehane's depiction of the Kenzie-Gennaro family's domestic life. Little Gabby is a delight, and her name is apt since she is a real chat-o-matic. Though Patrick and Angie went through a rough spot in the earlier books, they are now in a solid, supportive loving relationship and they're ready to do whatever it takes to stand against the world, put the past to rest and move forward. 

Lehane has done an excellent job of recapturing the noir/hardboiled feel of the five previous Kenzie-Gennaro novels, blending relentless violence, duplicity, moral ambiguity and a soupçon of levity. Characters who could have been stereotypical bad guys are given unexpected dimensions. The banter between the protagonists and the presence of a resourceful criminal ally (Bubba here, instead of Hawk) are strongly reminiscent of the Spencer novels of Robert B. Parker, which are also set in Boston, though Lehane's books are meatier and more philosophical. Moonlight Mile could probably be read as a standalone novel, but readers will appreciate the story much more if they're familiar with the previous books. 

Web site and all contents © Copyright Bev Vincent 2007-2010. All rights reserved