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Small Mercies


Small Mercies

When I read my first Dennis Lehane novel --- and I was there from the beginning with A DRINK BEFORE THE WAR in 1994 --- I felt like I had stepped into another planet. Never before had I experienced such lifelike and gritty prose. This book launched his Patrick Kenzie/Angela Gennaro series, and I didn’t want it to end.

Lehane has since become a stalwart in crime fiction, and he has worked on such TV series as “The Wire,” “Mr. Mercedes” and, most recently, the award-winning “Black Bird.” He is in an extremely small class of writers that includes George Pelecanos and Michael Connelly who have their finger on the pulse of the street like no one else can recreate. With the bulk of his books set in and around the city of Boston, you can practically smell the areas he describes and immerse yourself in the ethnicities of the various neighborhoods depicted.

"This may be Lehane’s best novel since MYSTIC RIVER. It is proof that he has not lost a bit of his feel for the streets or the pain and suffering of its residents."

SMALL MERCIES, Lehane’s highly anticipated new novel, takes us back to those streets. It is the summer of 1974, and the action mainly takes place on the eve of the infamous forced busing vote that pits whites against Blacks in the heart of Boston. Mary Pat Fennessy, the book’s protagonist, is no saint by any stretch. She has lived her entire life in the Southie neighborhood, which has developed a reputation for racial intolerance, and is a single mother struggling to raise a family that includes 17-year-old Jules. They don’t always see eye to eye, but Mary Pat loves her daughter more than anything in the world.

One ominous evening, Jules leaves the house and never returns. It happens to be the same night that a young Black man named Augie Williamson is found dead in a nearby subway station, having been struck by a train. The two stories converge in a way that only Lehane could have designed. Mary Pat conducts her own investigation, which puts her directly in the path of the Irish mob. In a scene that is vintage Lehane, Mary Pat kidnaps and confronts a drug dealer who knows what happened to Jules. She forces him to take some of his own product, high-grade heroin, and gets him to confess the truth.

This sets up a finale filled with retribution and revenge, all comfortably placed amidst the busing issue that has turned Mary Pat’s neighborhood into a war zone. She tells Detective Bobby Coyne, “My life was my daughter. They took my life when they took hers. I’m not a person anymore, Bobby, I’m a ghost. I’m a testament. That’s what ghosts are --- they’re testaments to what never should have happened and must be fixed before their spirits leave the world.” This is classic Lehane dialogue with a voice that is completely unique in crime fiction.

This may be Lehane’s best novel since MYSTIC RIVER. It is proof that he has not lost a bit of his feel for the streets or the pain and suffering of its residents. He takes us right back to the turbulent ’70s and the racial tension in Boston, which is exacerbated by the desegregation of the public school system that will forever change the face of the city. In the middle of all of this is a mother looking for her daughter and seeking revenge in her name. SMALL MERCIES is a book that you will not be able to shake easily.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on April 28, 2023

Small Mercies
by Dennis Lehane

  • Publication Date: April 25, 2023
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Harper
  • ISBN-10: 0062129481
  • ISBN-13: 9780062129482