I am overjoyed that MOONLIGHT MILE, the sequel to the brilliant GONE BABY GONE, marks Dennis Lehane’s return to the Boston of Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro. While it’s true that I can’t stand Kenzie, a self-righteous, sanctimonious prig of epic proportions, his redeeming quality is that he knows it, though he doesn’t struggle too much to fight against it. Therefore it’s ironic, to say the least, that this book puts Kenzie knee deep in the backwash of what was arguably his biggest mistake.
Kenzie made a mind-numbing decision in GONE BABY GONE, in which he rescued a four-year-old girl named Amanda McCready from a loving home and returned her to a living situation of unimaginable neglect and abuse. He was somehow able to live with himself, and life has gone on. MOONLIGHT MILE picks up 12 years later when he is confronted by the Ghost of Christmas Past, served up Lehane-style. Amanda’s aunt informs Kenzie that Amanda has disappeared again and that she needs his help in finding her. Kenzie doesn’t really have time for this, given that he and Angela Gennaro, with whom he ran a private investigation agency, are now married with a four-year-old daughter of their own. Kenzie is experiencing enough difficulty finding new jobs with paying clients to revisit past cases, particularly one that is the source of a great deal of guilt for him. He’s reluctant to take the case until he’s warned off in no uncertain terms by a group of thugs who do some damage to him that he’s almost unable to walk away from.
The warning results in two reactions. First, Kenzie calls in Bubba. (Note to the author: a series revolving around Bubba would be wonderful.) Bubba, described by Kenzie as being the size of a baby rhinoceros on its hind legs, is the smartest person in any room that he happens to occupy. It’s not that he understands the principles behind rocket science; he simply knows everything about what is happening around him at any given moment. With Bubba’s assistance, Kenzie gets some information concerning who is warning him off the Amanda hunt. His second reaction is to take the case and go looking for Amanda. His trail leads him to Amanda’s not-so-loving birth mother, to an exclusive girls’ school, and then to a dark, portentous and very fateful meeting with a crazed Russian mobster and his underlings. And while things were interesting before, Lehane rings all the bells when the Russian mob gets involved.
As flawed as Lehane’s heroes may be, it’s in the characterization of his villains where he really shines. There are apparently some dark and badly twisted souls crawling around in the creative portion of Lehane’s brain, and he has no problem describing them realistically and frightfully. Have you ever walked past someone on the street who made your skin crawl because they possessed some indefinable quality that was really off the dial? Lehane takes that type of person, puts him on the printed page, and gets you so close that you can smell his breath and see yourself in his eyes. I will tell you without exaggeration that there are some pages in the last fourth of the book that make the final 20 minutes of the original version of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre look like Howard’s End. And not because of blood and guts, either. It’s more because of what might have happened that will leave you gasping.
Lehane shows no rust at all in MOONLIGHT MILE. Its ending is surprising and of great consequence, and will leave his readers wondering what will come next. In the meantime, read or re-read his classic body of work and wait patiently. As he has demonstrated time and again, it’ll be worth it.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on November 1, 2010