24 May 2012

Kenzie & Gennaro - you will be missed...

In spite of having seen Gone, Baby, Gone at least three times, it was only recently (after the holidays) that I somehow became aware that it was the 4th in a series of six crime thrillers by Dennis Lehane.  I swear, I am not living under a rock, but 1. how I got this far without knowing this amazing series exists, and 2. how I could not have learned that this, in my Top 100 favorite films of all time, was first a BOOK, and a GREAT one, is beyond me.  I mean, I watch the credits! How did I miss this for so long?!  Common sense ain’t all that common.  Sounds like something Patrick Kenzie might say.
Casey Affleck & Michelle Monaghan were perfect.
Too bad they made just one.....
It’s pretty rare for me to read a series, rarer to read one that’s more than a trilogy, so for me to BLAZE through each and every volume of this 6-book adventure is really saying something.  Kenzie is an amazing narrator, and hard-boiled in the best tradition.  The genre has been done to death (from Sherlock Holmes to Sam Spade, Columbo to Magnum P.I.  Even, to a degree, Robert Langdon in The Da Vinci Code, and god knows who else) but Kenzie is fresh & unique.  I loved how smart and savvy both Patrick & Angie are, and even smarter together. I love their chemistry, both intellectual and sexual.  I love how much he absolutely adores her, even when he’s mad as hell at her.  He’s tough yet tender.  I loved watching Angie transform from a battered wife to a confident 40-something.  Growing up takes a lifetime.

Dennis Lehane isn’t just FROM Boston, everything he writes has the Charles River flowing in its veins.  These characters are so alive, I might run into them the next time we’re lost, on foot, in Dorchester (yeah, it happened, and it’s probably a good thing I hadn’t read this). It’s refreshing to “hear” New England, but more specifically Boston, “sound” right (so many authors and actors miss the mark).  Lehane writes both the accent and the regional idiom as only a native could. 

"Dorchester", courtesy Adam Pieniazek,
Flickr Creative Commons
So much of “official Boston” is geared to promoting tourism and heady academia. This is a love song to the sordid underbelly, through well-developed characters who represent the residents of Southie, Dorchester, Mattapan, and other Boston neighborhoods.  Men & women who know that you have to put up with the three-flatters, taverns, concrete playgrounds, and a general amount of urban decay, in order to know everyone and their mother who lives in a 12-block radius.  They’ll take that over the aloof whited sepulchres of the rich and powerful uptown any day.

Violent in the extreme, gritty in every way, the tale wouldn’t be the same without.  Shocking sadism: one villain tortures his victims by nailing their hands & feet to the floor before torturing them to death; another “silences” his victim by cutting out his tongue AND chopping off both his hands (I had nightmares about that one).  Is this “ripped from the headlines,” or is this just the creepy imagination of Lehane?  Either is possible, or maybe a bit of both.

In spite of all the sadness, loss, danger, anger, and fear, Lehane is ever wry and pithy.  It’s a gallows humor, probably the remnants of the survival technique of working-class Boston.  Stay cool, laugh it off, don’t ruffle your feathers, don’t show your hand. Little wisecracks abound. In Moonlight Mile, Kenzie is tailing “bad guys” in a bright yellow Hummer he borrowed from another “bad guy” (read the book, it’ll make more sense), and he chucks this one out: “trying to look inconspicuous in a yellow Hummer [on Route 1] is like trying to look inconspicuous walking naked into a church.”  I wish I had kept a list of all these quirky remarks, but frankly, I was so swept into the books that I was simply along for the ride; they become part of the fabric of this world.

For the record, if you want a vivid depiction of just how much technology has changed, and in doing so, changed society, in the 20-or-so adult years of Gen-Xers, read this series.

Boston skyline
(courtesy "maxf", Flickr Creative Commons)
Kenzie wrestles with ethical dilemmas in the moment, and pangs of conscience in the aftermath: was it right to shoot a momentarily unarmed psychopathic killer, or a momentarily unarmed violent child molester? Largest of all, he struggles with his decision to return Amanda to her drug-addled, neglectful mother, rather than leave her with the loving people who, in an effort to save her, kidnapped her.  His crisis arcs through the 2nd half of the series.  The law does not account for every eventuality.  The real world is not black & white. Neither is Lehane’s Boston.

I heard that Lehane got pretty burned out from this series (he took a break by writing Mystic River, Shutter Island, and the HBO series The Wire – what a cheery fellow).  It must have been awful for those Kenzie & Gennaro fans to wait more than 10 years between Books 5 and 6.  I read the whole series like a 2,000 page novel, barely coming up for a breath between closing one book and opening the next (thanks to the library and to Gordon & Rich for keeping me well-supplied for my next fix!). Maybe being slow on the uptake has its benefits.

The Kenzie & Gennaro series includes:
A Drink Before the War (1994)
Darkness, Take My Hand (1996)
Sacred (1997)
Gone, Baby, Gone (1998)
Prayers for Rain (1999)
Moonlight Mile (2010)

1 comment:

  1. I totally agree with your views on these characters. I love your descriptions and the sense you have for them! I don't want to see their tale come to an end~as alive and vibrant as Lehane has created them to be, perhaps they will once again visit his imagination and our's.