I saw the movie that Clint Eastwood interpreted but after 15 years, I barely remembered the story. This was one of the most compelling books I've ever read. Not just the story but the writing. One of the few books in my life that I had trouble putting down. I found myself waking up in the middle of the night to read it. It was the first Dennis Lehane I've read and I found his prose to be romantic, dark, poetic, gritty, and touching. He let his characters breathe and painted broad emotions, from venomous violence to silent tenderness, with equal artistry. I can't wait to read my next Lehane book.
Mystic River is my first Dennis Lehane book. After the first paragraph, I knew I had a winner. This tale opens with three Boston kids, Sean , Jimmy, and Dave, playing hockey in the street. Something happens to one of the boys that day that changes the trajectory of their friendship and lives. 25 years later, Jimmy, now an ex-con, loses his daughter to a vicious murder. Sean is working the homicide, and Dave fits into the narrative. Lots of plot twists, suspense, and good old fashioned storytelling. I rented the movie after completing the book, it was just as good !
A well told story, in which you kind of actually like the characters, even though most of them are bad guys. One of the biggest thugs in the story has a pet cat that his nieces love to play with, and the ex con is a good family man and really cares about his neighbors. But the guy who got wrongfully killed was getting ready to become a really bad guy and you don't really care too much about him getting offed. All 3 of the main characters' wives are disturbing in different ways, as well. The cop is a pretty awesome guy, though. All in all a really exciting, well told story that messed with my sympathies a little bit but that is ok. Recommend it to anyone, it's just as great as the movie.
Cataloguing Dennis Lehane as a "mystery writer" is, to me, sort of like classifying LeBron James as just a basketball player. Yes, Lehane writes books that have a mystery/thriller component to them, but, just as James's ability now defines the game of basketball, Lehane's ability goes far beyond a genre also. I would challenge all readers to undertake any of today's top names in the field (Patterson, Baldacci, Grisham...) and read their top works side by side with Lehane's and I'd wager that a marked literary difference would be not only immediately noticeable, but profound. The intriguing difference with Lehane, it seems to me, is that he encompasses the whole human experience with his novels. The characters have voice, depth and a priority in his works that the others in this genre clearly lack. And once he's firmly established these characters, the story then flows easily and with a believability uncommon in those others.
"Mystic River", although a little dated now (2001), is a classic example of this. Bypassing the well established pattern of other mystery/thriller works, Lehane, instead of immediately grabbing the reader with his storyline, slowly but efficiently introduces us to the people and environment. Centering essentially around three main characters, Sean Devine, Jimmy Marcus and Dave Boyle, we watch as our protagonists are developed before the first major "event" of the story ever ensues. Following them into adulthood, Lehane is brilliant with introducing and developing subordinate characters.
As kids, Dave, essentially the "weakest" of the three, is lured into what they all think is a police car when they are all out arguing in the street in their suburban Boston neighborhood. The car isn't a police car, of course, and Dave is actually abducted by pedophiles and suffers four days of brutality before escaping. Fast forwarding to the present day, all of them are adults with wives and families and we're witness now to a violent crime where Jimmy's daughter is brutally murdered. Sean, a State Trooper, is brought in to help solve the crime and the story is carried forward here in a nuanced three-pronged attack...Jimmy, not surprisingly an ex-con now, slowly builds a revenge response as his grief grows; Sean's duty is overlayed with his past while Dave's demons surface as he still battles the effects of that terrible four days.
What truly makes this novel stand out, however, is Lehane's ability to have the characters grow while the plot unfolds. Brilliant dialogue, believable outcomes, all cast in an environment of low-middle class Boston is a clear tone and backdrop throughout this work. Never is there any scene or conversation that deviates from this firmly established basis and Lehane carries all of these subplots to an almost obvious conclusion.
Again, having this work characterized as a "mystery/thriller" is only touching the surface. Dennis Lehane provides the reader with a true moral drama here and this book branches out into so many other literary fields that are masterfully grasped that it really should be undertaken by anyone who enjoys great writing. Please, do not judge this on category alone...this is a consummate literary experience and should be enjoyed by all. Highest recommendation.