Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Angela McCready is Gone Again

At the beginning of his writing career, Dennis Lehane wrote an excellent series of gritty P.I. novels set in Boston and featuring Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro, detectives who operated out of an office in a church bell tower. The 1998 entry was Gone, Baby, Gone, in which the detectives mounted a long search for a missing four-year-old girl named Amanda McCready. The girl had been kidnapped from an abusive mother and a generally miserable home environment and left in the care of a stable, middle class couple who loved Amanda and provided her with an excellent home. Once having found Amanda, Patrick and Angie disagreed about whether they should return the girl to her awful mother or leave her in the home of the people who were obviously much better prepared to care for her. Ultimately, they returned Amanda to her biological mother, but the decision to do so drove a wedge into the relationship between the two detectives.

Lehane would write one more Kenzie/Gennaro book, Prayers for Rain, published in 1999, before leaving the series to write a number of stand-alones, including Mystic River and Shutter Island. He now returns to the series with Moonlight Mile, a book that Kenzie/Gennaro fans have long awaited.

Much has changed in the eleven years that have elapsed. Patrick and Angie are now married and the parents of their own four-year-old daughter. (This gives nothing away. It's in the promotional material and is revealed in the opening of the book.) Patrick is still working as a P.I., but the cases are few and far between. Angie has gone back to school and the family is struggling financially, victims of the recession. The office in the bell tower is gone--a casualty of the Catholic church's financial crisis--and now Amanda McCready has gone missing again.

The case has haunted Patrick and Angie for twelve years and Patrick agrees to try to find Amanda for a second time. The hunt takes Patrick and Angie into a tangled world of Russian mobsters, irresponsible parents, and a young woman who is wise way beyond her years. In addition to the intellectual and physical challenges that the case poses for Patrick, he faces a number of ethical and moral dilemmas that are not easily resolved.

This is a very good book--both highly entertaining and thought-provoking. But as a long-time fan who has read this series from the very beginning, I had a couple of quibbles. First, I regret, to some extent, the fact that Lehane simply picked up the series eleven years down the road. Major changes have occurred in the lives of characters that fans of the series have come to care about. And I feel somewhat cheated by the fact that I didn't get to watch those changes as they happened. It would be as if Lawrence Block had simply skipped over the book in which Matthew Scudder stopped drinking and became sober.

My other concern is that Patrick makes choices in this book that would have been perfectly logical for a single detective in his early thirties, possessed of a strong moral code. Patrick still has a strong moral code, but I'm not sure that some of his choices are appropriate for a man with a wife and child who may well be seriously affected by those choices. He has other people to think about now, and I found myself questioning the logic of his actions at a couple of points.

Those admittedly minor reservations aside, I enjoyed this book very much and it was very nice to see Patrick and Angie back again.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A Plague of Secrets

A Plague of Secrets reunites John Lescroart's main series characters, Dismas Hardy, Abe Glitsky and Wyatt Hunt, along with the cast of minor characters that populates this very engaging series. The book opens with a personal tragedy that afflicts Glitsky, Hardy's best friend and the head of the San Francisco Homicide unit. Not surprisingly, the tragedy will distract Glitsky's attention from his duties in the department, and it probably goes without saying that this will not be a good thing.

Immediately thereafter, Dylan Vogler, the manager of a very popular coffee shop, is found shot to death at the back door of the shop. Vogler is wearing a backpack filled with high quality weed that he's also selling out of the coffee shop. His client list, which includes some very prominent names quickly becomes public, causing no end of embarrassment for a number of people.

Suspicion falls almost immediately upon the coffee shop's absentee owner, wealthy socialite Maya Townshend, who knew Vogler in college. Townshend claims she felt sorry for her former classmate when he finished a stint in prison and needed a job. Thus she made him the manager of her coffee shop at the rather astonishing salary of $90,000 a year.

Townshend is well connected politically and the case provides the opportunity for a number of ambitious and very scary politicians and others to advance their own careers and agendas by prosecuting her. Maya retains Dismas Hardy to defend her, and the game is on.

Last week, I reviewed one of the very early Perry Mason mysteries, and I always think of Mason and his creator, Erle Stanley Gardner, when I read one of Lescroart's Dismas Hardy books. As fond as I am of the Mason books, it always strikes me that Dismas Hardy is a defense lawyer for grown-ups. Reading Lescroart, you get an excellent impression of what a defense lawyer's life is really like and how a murder trial really works, especially with a high profile client. Not surprisingly, I suppose, it doesn't look much like a Perry Mason novel.

Lescroart's court room scenes are always enormously compelling, and once one of his cases gets to trial you know you're in for a long night because from that point on, it's always impossible to put one of these books down. Certainly, that's the case here.

As the title suggests, this is a book in which an awful lot of people have buried secrets, and Dismas Hardy is forced to uncover and understand the meaning of any number of them if he's going to have any chance at all of saving his client. Watching him attempt to do so is a great treat.