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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 later.

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 investigator.

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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