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Onyx reviews: Mystic
River by Dennis Lehane
The triumvirate of modern noir crime fiction consists of Dennis Lehane,
Michael Connelly and George P. Pelecanos. All three have books out that
represent these writers at the top of their game.
In Mystic River, Lehane takes a break from the series characters
Kenzie and Genaro, featured in his first five novels, to look at childhood
friends who grow apart and are reunited again unwillingly twenty-five years
In reality, Dave Boyle, Sean Devine and Jimmy Marcus did not grow apart—they
were yanked apart. As kids, Sean and Jimmy lived in the same Boston
neighborhood. Their fathers worked together. Dave was somewhat of an outsider,
insinuating himself into their group. One day when they were eleven, a car
containing two men claiming to be police officers interrupted them while they
were playing. Dave Boyle got into the car with them. When he was next seen four
days later, everything about his life had changed. He escaped from his captors,
but not from the memory of what was done to him during his captivity. His abuse—presumably sexual—is never described in detail, leaving the reader to
provide his or her own version of what happened. After his abduction, his
isolation is magnified.
Jump ahead a quarter of the century and see where life has taken the three men.
Jimmy Marcus, after a stint in prison, now owns and operates a corner
convenience store. His wife's family has ties to the mob. His nineteen-year-old
daughter is planning to run away to Las Vegas to get married. Dave Boyle is
married, a father, but continually fights psychological demons from his past
trauma. Sean Devine, a homicide detective, is separated from his wife, who
became pregnant while having an affair. She periodically calls him and lets him
speak, but says nothing herself.
"There are threads in our lives. You pull one, and everything else gets
affected," Lehane writes. When Devines responds to an emergency call one
evening, he finds that Katie Marcus, Jimmy's daughter, is the murder victim. The
crime brings the three back together for the first time since their youth.
Katie's murder was brutally violent. Shot in her car, her trail of blood reveals
her panicked flight through a city park where she was eventually cornered and
beaten to death. To Devine, it appears the crime has a personal motive rather
than being a random act of violence.
On the same evening as Katie's murder, Dave Boyle arrives home with blood on his
clothing, claiming to have been involved in a violent altercation in a parking
lot outside a bar. He. His wife, who understands Dave's emotional problems
without knowing many of the details of his childhood misfortune, helps him
destroy the evidence. As the investigation into Katie's murder evolves, though,
Celeste Boyle begins to wonder if Dave told her the truth about what happened
that evening. Marcus and his mob in-laws also cast a wary eye at Dave and Devine
must scramble to solve the crime before they take the law into their own hands.
Devine's superiors wonder if he is too close to this crime to be an objective
The characters of Mystic River are working class people. While the
book is a mystery, a whodunit with the requisite clues and red herrings, Lehane
transcends the genre. The book is really about these three men, the things they
say and do, the way they think and speak. Lehane gives us believable characters
like Jimmy Marcus, struggling to stay on the right side of the law, and Celeste
Boyle, who stands with her husband even as she begins to doubt him.
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