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Posts Tagged ‘Dennis Lehane’

“On a Tuesday in May, in her thirty-fifth year, Rachel shot her husband dead.”

That’s the humdinger first line of the prologue to Since We Fell (Ecco, digital galley), Dennis Lehane’s new thrill ride of a novel that is as slick and unexpected as black ice. It reads almost like two books, with the first charting Rachel Childs growing up with a bitter single mother who refuses to divulge her father’s identity. After her mother dies when she’s in college, Rachel continues to look for her father, even as she becomes a successful TV news reporter in Boston and marries her producer. Then comes an on-air meltdown while on assignment in Haiti, and Rachel loses her career and her marriage. Debilitating anxiety attacks turn her into a shut-in until a chance encounter with a one-time private investigator she had briefly hired. Brian Delacroix is now a successful businessman who understands Rachel like no one else. She falls hard for him, and he for her. They marry and everything is going well, with Rachel gradually making solo trips into the city. It’s on one such foray that she spots Brian across the street in the rain. But Brian is on a flight to London. Isn’t he?

Uh-oh. This is a Dennis Lehane novel, after all. Remember Mystic River? Shutter Island? Gone, Baby, Gone? The reversals of fortune can make your head spin and your heart ache, and Since We Fell is no exception. Reflective Rachel must give way to action-figure Rachel as she finds herself caught in a conspiracy where nothing is what it seems. Nothing and no one. Trust me.

Megan Miranda’s The Perfect Stranger (Simon & Schuster, digital galley) is another of those twisty thrillers pivoting on questions of identity and appearances. Reporter Leah Stevens has to resign her newspaper job after her sources are questioned in a story about college suicides. She fortuitously runs into her former roommate, Emmy Grey, who suggests Leah accompany her to rural Pennsylvania for a fresh start as a high school teacher. Then a woman who resembles Leah is found bludgeoned at a nearby lake, and Emmy goes missing. Questioned by a police detective, Leah admits to being stalked by a fellow teacher and is drawn into the investigation, especially when she realizes how little she really knows of Emmy and how much of it is lies. Miranda, author of the very good All the Pretty Girls, gets a bit bogged down in Leah’s back story and a few too many coincidences, but this is smartly written psychological suspense.

So many more mysteries and thrillers out there. Don’t miss Fallout (HarperCollins, digital galley), in which Sara Paretsky sends the intrepid V.I. Warshawski and her golden retriever to Kansas on the trail of a young fillmmaker and an aging black actress. In Lawrence (where Paretsky grew up), V.I. finds evidence of long-ago crimes seeping into the present, both in the university town and a in nearby decommissioned missile silo. Agatha Christie fans will appreciate the locked-room aspects of G.M. Maillet’s Devil’s Breath (St. Martin’s Press), even though the room in this case is a luxury yacht. British spy-turned-Anglican priest Max Tudor comes on board after the body of a glamorous actress washes ashore. Everyone, it seems, had a motive for murder. Plum Sykes launches a comic murder series set in 1980s Oxford with Party Girls Die in Pearls (HarperCollins, digital galley), featuring freshman sleuth Ursula Flowerbottom and her new BFF, American Nancy Feingold. Ursula’s discovery of the body of a fashionable classmate sends the duo on a round of parties where they can look their best while looking for a killer. Supremely silly fun and clothes to die for. In the surprising Long Black Veil (Crown, digital galley), Jennifer Finney Boylan offers a secretive leading character on a collision course with the past after the bones of a former classmate are discovered on the eerie grounds of an abandoned prison. And old bones also turn up in Sycamore (HarperCollins, digital galley), Bryn Chancellor’s interesting but overworked first novel. When word gets out about the skeletal remains found in a wash outside a small Arizona town, residents immediately think of 17-year-old Jess Winters, who disappeared 18 years ago. Chancellor moves back and forth in time and among various voices to explore the mystery of Jess herself and how her disappearance affected the town. Chancellor nails her teenagers but is less successful with the older characters, turning them elderly before their time.

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At the beginning of  Attica Locke’s atmospheric novel The Cutting Season, a cottonmouth the length of a Cadillac falls from a live oak during a wedding at a restored plantation. “It only briefly stopped the ceremony, this being Louisiana after all.”

Still, plantation manager Caren Grey takes the snake as a sign that Belle Vie’s beauty is not to be trusted. “That beneath its loamy topsoil, the manicured grounds and gardens, two centuries of breathtaking wealth and spectacle, lay a land both black and bitter, soft to the touch, but pressing in its power.”

Caren knows this better than most. She grew up in Ascension Parish, daughter of Belle Vie’s cook, descendant of the freed slave Jason, whose mysterious disappearance more than a century ago still haunts the estate-turned-tourist attraction. When a migrant worker from the adjoining sugar cane fields is found murdered at Belle Vie, Caren’s good intentions and curiosity put her at cross-purposes with the local authorities, the plantation’s owners, much of the staff, her own preteen daughter, and the girl’s father, a D.C. attorney. Past secrets lead to present dangers, love and loyalty collide, and the murder mystery winds through the plot like a slithering snake. But larger questions of class, race and identity complicate the whole, and it is those mysteries that Locke so artfully explores in prose as seductive as Belle Vie’s magnolia-scented grounds.

Dennis Lehane chose The Cutting Season as the first book for his new imprint at HarperCollins, so it’s fitting that one of our best crime novelists also has a new book. Live by Night is a sort of sequel to The Given Day, but this layered historical novel of the Roaring Twenties in Boston, Tampa and Cuba stands tall on its own.

Joe Coughlin, the younger son of a corrupt Boston cop, comes to crime as a teen “because it was fun and he was good at it.” By 20, he thinks of himself as an outlaw, with his own code of love and loyalty that allows him to work for established gangsters despite his aversion to senseless violence.

Joe’s conflicted conscience doesn’t keep him out of trouble. Quite the contrary. Falling for a rival mobster’s sultry girlfriend leads to her disappearance and presumed death while bad boy Joe is toughened by prison. He’s mentored by a Mafia don, who sets him up as a rum-runner in Tampa on his release. Still good at what he does, enterprising Joe builds a boot-legging empire and marries a Cuban social activist. Over time, he takes on all comers and uses some of his dirty money for good deeds. Still, blood and betrayal are inescapable.

This all makes for entertaining Prohibition-era noir, and Lehane bends the genre conventions to his own ends so that the past takes on the vivid solidity of the known present.

Open Book: I bought two copies of Attica Locke’s The Cutting Season (HarperCollins), one for me and one for my cousins Meg and Gail. As Caroline Cousins, we’ve written three cozy mysteries set on a restored plantation, and I enjoyed the familarity of Locke’s setting and details. I wish we’d thought of the falling snake, although we’d have played it more for laughs, like our marauding seagulls and ghost gator, and Locke’s book is deadly serious. I admire it very much. Dennis Lehane is a long-time favorite, and I read a digital galley of Live By Night (Morrow) via edelweiss.

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I’m not ready to close the book on 2010, or any other year for that matter. Perusing others’ year-end best lists, I’m gratified to see many of my own favorites (Tana French’s Faithful Place, Dennis Lehane’s Moonlight Mile, Emma Donoghue’s Room) and that President Obama is reading John le Carre and David Mitchell. But mostly I see all the books I’ve read but still haven’t written about, plus all the ones I want to read, including the lovely stack from Santa and friends.

 Just yesterday I finished Peter Robinson’s Bad Boy, which was very good, and came out six months ago. It’s the 19th in the Inspector Alan Banks series, which is hard to believe. Was In a Dry Season really 10 books back? I’d like to reread it if I can find my copy. I’m always looking for books lost in my own house, and while searching for them, I inevitably turn up others I’d like to reread — or never read in the first place. A constant chorus seems to emanate from the shelves and stacks: Pick me! I’m next! Over here!

I’m on vacation at my mom’s but can’t escape the books begging for attention. In fact, my bed is shoved up against a bookcase on one side, and I fall asleep — and wake up — eye-to-eye with a shelf of Maeve Binchy novels, a couple of Barbara Kingsolvers and some Tony Hillermans. All read and read again, still enticing. I turn my head, and the TBR stack of new volumes threatens to topple off the nightstand.

Susan Hill understands. The prolific British author, best known forThe Woman in Black — although I love her Simon Serrailler crime series — also loses books in her house. It’s why she wrote Howards End is on the Landing: A Year of Reading from Home. Looking for one elusive volume, she turned up a  dozen more she’d forgotten about. So, swearing off new books for the most part and curtailing her use of the internet, she decided to “repossess” her own books. She writes:

“A book which is left on a shelf is a dead thing but it is also a chrysalis, an inanimate object packed with the potential to burst into new life.”

Her books also turn out to be a map of her own life, and her reading journey becomes a memoir. For fellow bibliophiles, the result is as hard to resist as the title — charming, anecdotal, opinionated. The temptation to quote is endless. “No matter what the genre, good writing tells.” And, “Ah here is Muriel Spark, sharp as a pencil, cool, stylish.”

She is talking about Sparks’ novels and stories, but Hill has led a literary life, and her descriptions of her encounters with older, famous writers are just as pointed. Edith Sitwell is haughty and terrifying, but the “small man with thinning hair and a melancholy mustache” who accidentally drops a book on her foot in the London Library offers “a small flurry of exclamations and apology and demur.” As she returns the book, she finds herself looking into the watery eyes of an elderly E.M. Forster. “He seemed slightly stooping and wholly unmemorable and I have remembered everything about him for nearly 50 years.”

She notes that knowing about a writer’s life is rarely necessary to appreciate their works but makes an exception, at least for herself, where Dickens and the Brontes are concerned. As for her own life, she has published books by other authors and found it an enjoyable sideline. She loves the feel and shape of books, the smell of them, the sound of pages being turned. She’ll put money on books — real books, printed and bound — being around as long as there are readers.

When I started this blog almost a year ago, I had the ambitious idea of giving away at least one of my old books for every new one I brought home. I would even chronicle this pruning of my collection in occasional posts, “Going, going, gone.” I think I did this twice before realizing the futility of my donating books or releasing them into the wild in any organized fashion. I always have a give-away box going, but it contains mostly recent acquisitions in which I’ve lost all interest. Rarely can I survey my shelves, stacks, piles, bins, carry-alls, table-tops, etc. and see a book I think I might not want to re-read — or get around to reading for the first time. Just reading Hill’s memoir has reminded me of at least half a hundred of which I already have copies.

So that’s my plan for 2011. Not to stop reading new books; I know my limits — as well as what’s on the horizon that looks wonderful. I’m already counting the months — eight — when the sequel to Lev Grossman’s  The Magicians is supposed to be published. But I am going to make a concerted effort to “repossess” the books I have, to indulge in the companionship of old friends, to acquaint myself with new-to-me volumes. I’ll let you know how it goes, and how often whimsy wins out over the call of the current. As soon as I get home later this week, I’ll probably start with Forster. Howards End is in the white wicker chest beneath the bedroom window. I think.

Open Book: I bought my copy of Howards End is on the Landing by Susan Hill (Profile Books) when it was published in the U.S. in early November. It moved to the top of my TBR stack about a week ago.

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A child went missing, people died, and hearts were broken in Dennis Lehane’s haunting 1998 novel, Gone, Baby, Gone.

 Readers familiar with the book and/or the fine movie adaptation know that detective Patrick Kenzie’s wrenching decision to return 4-year-old Amanda McCready to her neglectful mother wasn’t cause for celebration. It split his professional and romantic partnership with Angie Gennaro, although the two warily reunited in 1999’s Prayers for Rain, the fifth book in the series.

 And that’s where Lehane left them, while he moved on to Mystic River, Shutter Island, This Given Day, short stories and writing for TV’s The Wire. Readers begged for more Patrick and Angie, but in repeated interviews Lehane pretty much shut the door on a sequel. Now as the Stones put it, down the road, “and the wind blows.” Patrick hears a knocking from the past and gets a a second chance for redemption.

Amanda, now a 16-year-old loner with plenty of smarts, has vanished again, and her aunt wants Patrick and Angie to find her. Yep, they’re married, with a cute four-year-old daughter, a small house on a decent street, and a pile of bills. Angie’s finishing grad school, and Patrick’s free-lancing investigations for a corporate firm. If he doesn’t keep pissing off clients, he might get on full-time. Ah, the recessions’s American dream — a job with benefits.

Lehane’s adept at using his crime stories as social commentary, and 2010 Boston gives him plenty to riff on: foreclosures, homelessness, more poverty, crime and class resentment as Patrick and Angie hunt for Amanda. Their own small happiness makes them more vulnerable to the villains: misguided parents, opportunistic crooks, a bevy of Russian mobsters. Good thing old pal Bubba’s got their backs. Still, you know Patrick’s moral compass — and his body — are going to take another beat-down. And resolutions don’t necessarily equate to happy endings.

Moonlight Mile is a gift for Lehane’s fans, right up there with Gone, Baby, Gone. Enjoy, because I don’t expect another sequel.

Open Book: I’ve been reviewing Dennis Lehane’s books since 1994, when Florida writer Jim Hall tipped me off to a recent Eckerd College grad’s first novel, A Drink Before the War,  the first Patrick & Angie. Dennis is also one of my favorite authors to interview. His publicist sent me an ARC of Moonlight Mile (William Morrow) earlier this year; I’ve read it twice already, and reread Gone, Baby, Gone in between.

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My mother’s been visiting for three days and already has read four books, two of which — Kathy Reichs’ Spider Bones and Nicolle Wallace’s Eighteen Acres — are still on my TBR list. As for me, I finished re-reading Dennis Lehane’s Gone, Baby, Gone and the terrific new sequel, Moonlight Mile, but haven’t gotten around to blogging about them because I’ve been too busy reading about books.

Some days are like that, I told a class of UCF journalism students last night. I spend the day on the net, which is the now and future of book reviewing and reporting, as every article on the nervous state of publishing seems to believe. I start my morning with the wonderful  “Shelf Awareness,” which appears in my inbox, along with the recommended “The Daily Dose” from Powell’s Books, then move on to Facebook and Twitter. I update the nook’s Daily and check out bn.com’s Deal of the Day.

 Today, after reading reviews of the newspaper novel Rogue Island in the Washington Post and Antonia Fraser’s Must You Go, about her marriage to Harold Pinter, at NPR, I downloaded samples of both books to the nook for further consideration. Those samples joined about a dozen others. I pre-ordered Nora Ephron’s new collection. I checked in on some of my favorite blogs and commented on a post on “Moby Lives” about judging book awards. I took a survey on NPR’s book coverage. While at the NPR site, I listened to Lev Grossman, author of The Magicians, reading from one of my all-time favorites, T.H. White’s The Once and Future King, which I reread a couple months ago. (Even as the new books stack up, I’ve vowed to do more reading from my older books, shopping my shelves, so to speak).

I signed in at NetGalley and spent awhile looking at what books are coming out in early 2011. I entered a book giveaway contest sponsored by Crown Publishing on Facebook because The Black Apple’s Paper Doll Primer reminds me how much I like playing with scissors if I ever stop reading long enough to do some art projects. I saw the New York Times “Paper Cuts” blogged about John Fowles’ The Tree, which I wrote about last week. The old reporter in me rejoiced at my “scoop.”

Then I looked at the TBR stack that Mom has been whittling away on. I picked up John le Carre’s Our Kind of Traitor, read three pages and fell asleep — not because the book is boring but because I needed one of my twice-daily naps. Mom kept on reading. And she’s reading now, although I’ve assured her that she can take the book home with her to S.C. in the morning. I’ll read it when I come up in December.

I started writing this because I couldn’t bear watching election results. A friend has just called with condolences. Time to go to bed. Like the sun, the TBR books will be there in the morning. Tomorrow is another page. . .

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Company’s coming, and I’m trying to clean up the stacks. Here are four, oddly assorted books I’m putting in my “going, going, gone” box. It’s time they called somewhere else home:

Angel, city of, (Pocket Pulse), a paperback novelization of the series premiere by Nancy Holder: I remain an ardent Buffy/Angel/Joss Whedon fan, but my loyalty does not extend to books based on teleplays. I don’t know where this came from, but it appears to have never been read. I’ll keep my DVD.

Final Payments (Random House), a book club hardcover edition of Mary Gordon’s fine 1978 debut novel. Gordon has moved on, and so have I.

Henry and Cato (Viking), a used hardcover of Iris Murdoch’s 1976 novel about two boyhood friends whose lives intersect as grown-ups in complex ways. At least that’s what I remember. For those who like Murdoch.

Prayers for Rain (Harper Torch), a beat-up paperback copy of Dennis Lehane’s fifth crime novel in the wonderful Patick Kenzie-Angie Gennaro series. This edition also includes the first chapters of the previous four books, including Gone, Baby, Gone and my favorite, Darkness, Take My Hand. I think this must have been a traveling copy — I always have at least one book in my pocketbook — because of its condition. My pristine hardcover Lehanes remain in my care.

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