Re-reading Gone, Baby, Gone
I just finished reading Dennis Lehane's Gone, Baby, Gone, for the second time, in the midst of the hype about the Ben Affleck-directed movie based on the book. As much as hype as there is, at any rate. It's received so-so reviews, some good, some mediocre. I still would like to see it, but it's likely one that'll wait until it's out on DVD. (Let's be honest -- that's true of most movies these days.)
I discovered Lehane's work a few years ago after reading an article at salon.com about the best thriller/mystery writers out there. The author of this particular article seemed to have similar taste to my own, and much praise for Lehane's series featuring Boston detective duo Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro. I remember the article making particular reference to the violence in these books; I think one line went something like, "Darkness, Take My Hand should have been titled, Darkness, Take Me By the Throat and Throttle the Life out of Me." Naturally, I headed for the library and jumped into the series. Good stuff, I found. Some Lawrence Block-esque humor, some fine, old-style, private-dick cynicism, lots of colorful characters, a super-strong sense of Boston's seedier side. And, yeah, violence. Which I can take or leave. It doesn't bother me all that much; if I can handle Clete Purcel and Dave Robicheaux, I can handle Kenzie and Gennaro. Same level.
And then, of course, Mystic River came along, and Clint Eastwood made Lehane a crossover hit. I felt like a fan of, I dunno, R.E.M. from the days of Radio Free Europe or something, being all like, yeah, what is this "Shiny, Happy People"shit? (Just kidding, Mr. Stipe, sir -- "Shiny, Happy People" is clearly a fun, intelligent, artistically sound little satire and not at all a way to make a whole bunch of money off of morons who will buy anything you put in front of them if the video is neat. Really, it is. Plus, Mystic River is actually a pretty good book, too, even though I like the Kenzie-Genarro series better and wish Lehane would get back to it. Shutter Island? Now that, I didn't much care for.)
So, like I said, I just re-read Gone, Baby, Gone. And I got so caught up in it, I also then went and re-read Darkness, Take Me By the Throat, or whatever it's called. (A note: I wish I'd read them in the opposite order, because GBG comes after Darkness, and sort of gives away a huge plot point in Darkness with a throw-away bit of backstory.) Yes, they're violent as hell, in places, but I can tolerate the violence when I am as drawn in as I am by these books. Patrick Kenzie is a fine lead character, a kind of fallen hero in the tradition of Marlowe or Lew Archer or Spenser or Jake Gittes. He's got the kind of wise-ass sense of humor that apparently is a requirement for the job, at least in books, and he has a finely tuned appreciation for sex and beautiful women, particularly his partner, Angie Gennaro. (Incidentally, I sort of struggle picturing Casey Affleck as Kenzie ... Affleck seems too soft somehow, not world-weary enough, missing the sort of caged-in capacity for violence that Kenzie has, no matter how hard he works to keep that cage locked; I could be wrong, I hope I am, and I have read good things about Affleck in the movie, so I'll try to reserve judgment.)
Even more than the compelling characters, though, what draws me into these books is the world the characters inhabit. The apparently mean streets of Boston are as fine a setting as you could have for a thriller series, and it's this place where violence and trauma and nastiness are all around, plenty of reminders of how much the universe can suck, but decent, smart people like Kenzie and Gennaro make it okay by knowing which rules to follow, which ones to bend, and which ones to kick the living shit out of. It's the kind of world where there's violence that is immoral (committed by the bad guys) and violence that is moral (committed by Our Heroes) ... or at least almost moral, close enough to moral, quasi-moral. It's a world where I don't think I would want to live, but I rather like visiting -- and if I did live there, I'm pretty sure I would be just like Patrick Kenzie. Don't you think?