Twelve years ago, a 4-year-old girl was kidnapped, and now she has vanished again. Luckily, this is not a true crime story but the plot of Dennis Lehane’s latest novel, “Moonlight Mile.”
Amanda McCready disappeared for the first time in Lehane’s bestselling 1998 book, “Gone, Baby, Gone,” and now private detective Patrick Kenzie and his partner Angie Gennaro are hired to find the missing girl once again. As they delve into the case and the crime-filled neighborhoods of Boston, Kenzie wonders if this could be his chance to fix the mistakes he made the last time he encountered McCready.
The sixth novel in the “Kenzie and Gennaro” series and the first since 1999’s “Prayers for Rain,” “Moonlight Mile” is not the best of the series but is still a gripping and suspenseful novel. Lehane conveys the atmosphere of the seedy underbelly of Boston with ease and style. This is typical of his novels, which include “Mystic River,” “Shutter Island” and the other novels in the “Kenzie and Gennaro” series. His writing is never over-embellished. Lehane describes his setting just enough to paint a picture of a poor area whose residents turn to crime out of necessity and desperation. The sparse, simple style fits well with the realistic tone and the bleakness of the characters’ situations.
Typical to Lehane’s writing style, the characters are not weighed down by lengthy description of their appearances or clothing. There is no flowery prose about their looks or attire; instead, Lehane allows their tense and genuine dialogue and their actions to shape their characters. For example, McCready has become an intelligent, fast-talking young woman who will do anything to protect the people she loves. These facts are emphasized by her teachers and classmates, as well as her own determination to escape her unhappy childhood. Her diction is well beyond that of a typical 16-year-old’s, which demonstrates the maturity she has developed because of the hardships in her life.
Lehane never falls into the trap of telling instead of showing either. His characters’ traits and motivations are revealed without the typical mystery cliché of the villain telling his entire evil plan at the end or the hero blatantly explaining his every motivation. Rather, Lehane uses subtle moments and realistic dialogue to show the characters’ goals and desires.
Kenzie continues to struggle with the temper he has had throughout the series and wonders if his time as a private detective is coming to an end. This dilemma is only directly revealed near the end of the book. Throughout the novel, though, Kenzie’s fights with other characters, thoughts about the future and comparisons between his life 12 years ago and his life today all demonstrate Lehane’s ability to portray his characters’ motivations in a realistic way.
The story loses some of its realism toward the end of the novel. Everything is tied up neatly in the final chapter because of an unexpected event, despite putting Kenzie, Gennaro and McCready in the crosshairs of different criminals and, more frighteningly, the mob. Unlike previous novels in the series, the conclusion of “Moonlight Mile” is not open-ended for the possibility of another book. The ending makes it clear this is the last novel in the series. Therefore, it is understandable that Lehane would not want to leave loose ends for the reader to wonder about. However, after spending most of the novel detailing the many dangers McCready and the Kenzies had to face to solve the case, an ending that employs a deus ex machina plot device seems to over-simplify an otherwise realistic book.
“Moonlight Mile” is equal in quality to most of the other “Kenzie and Gennaro” novels with thrilling twists and gripping suspense. Though it does not reach the same level of quality as “Gone, Baby, Gone,” it provides a fascinating follow-up to McCready’s life and the fallout of her case and is a satisfying conclusion to the series.