The Moonlight Mile In My Mind: My Thoughts on Moonlight Mile by Dennis Lehane

Dennis Lehane Moonlight MileOver at Ransom Notes Jed Ayres had a post wondering what people thought of the new Dennis Lehane book, Moonlight Mile. I started to respond and before I knew it I had 400+ words on the book. This is a roundabout way of saying that this is more of a personal response to the book then a more formal review. Or in other words what follows isn’t intended for those who haven’t read the book. To most who have already read the book sharpen the knives cuz you probably won’t like much of what’s to come.

I’m a long time Dennis Lehane fan. I’m even a Kenzie/Gennaro fan, which I only mention because I don’t read a lot of series books. When I get my hands on a Lehane book I stop whatever I’m doing and whatever I’m reading. I bought the book on the Friday after it came out and had it finished by Monday morning which, as a father of two elementary school age children is no small feat for me. Above all else I felt the pull to keep turning the pages; to find out what was going to happen next and to see how it was going to end. Since I HAD to know it was a great reading experience. But is it a great book? No, I don’t think it is. Ultimately it falls into that category of liked it but didn’t love it. Moonlight Mile is fluff but it is entertaining fluff.

What I keep coming back to is that Moonlight Mile is a book of missed opportunities and may even be a giant missed opportunity in and of itself. This isn’t the first time that a Kenzie/Gennaro book was a missed opportunity though. More on that in a bit.

It’s no big thing to say that at some point in the book Patrick and Angie find Amanda. The three of them meeting for the first time should have been like the balcony scene in The Wire with Stringer and Avon in season 3 (which Lehane had a cameo in). To put it simply — these people have a history — and that history should inform, underscore and highlight all of their interactions. When the three of them meet the stage has been set for an emotionally charged reckoning that should have been the crown jewel of the book, hell of the entire series.

It should have crackled with subtle and palpable intensity that was filled to the anxious brim with subtext and mixed and conflicting emotions and motives. This meeting lacked the emotional richness of all of these things trying to be restrained but scrambling to compete for dominance and get to the surface anyway. I wanted every moment to fill me with an emotional charge as the poisonous final act of Gone Baby Gone keeps breaking through the surface and the past comes quietly roaring back.

For example the dredging up of Patrick & Angie’s one true Achilles Heel should have had a greater impact on them. Even if they had been able to get past and through the events at the end of Gone Baby Gone that doesn’t mean that it wouldn’t rear its ugly head once confronted with the flesh and blood of that action.

Dennis Lehane is the guy who wrote Darkness Take My Hand, Gone Baby Gone and Mystic River, where did his balls go? Did he leave them in 1919?

I’ve strongly advocated before that the Kenzie/Gennaro books should have included other POV’s then just Patrick’s. This is the single greatest misstep of the series. I still believe that to this day and that belief has been strengthened by Moonlight Mile. After the events of Darkness Take My Hand Angie was understandably filled with grief. Her ex-husband was killed and her feelings for him were complex so she had a complex reaction to his death. Imagine if Sacred was told from Angie’s point of view and what started out as a simple undercover assignment to infiltrate Grief Release ended up with her having this set of complex reactions to the death of her ex-husband and unintentionally becoming firmly embedded in the group as she believes they can help her. She could have had conflicting emotions about acting for the group and trying to help Patrick further the investigation. Her identity would be in peril for the reader and the suspense and tension of the resolution of this question would have driven the entire narrative. Sacred was not the book it could/should have been because it wasn’t written from Angie’s perspective or at least didn’t include it.

There were more people affected by the actions at the end of Gone Baby Gone then Patrick, Angie and Amanda. There were a lot more relationships that were damaged or ruined by those actions. It is my opinion that Moonlight Mile could have benefited from a third person point of view that explored all of these characters all these years later as they are confronted with the actions of 12 years ago. To not revisit these characters all of these years later and explore all of the ramifications is a disservice to the characters, the reader, and the earlier story.

The Moonlight Mile in my mind is much darker and psychological.

Some stray observations:

-It’s supposed to be a Patrick and Angie book except she’s barely in it, or at least barely in it with Patrick.

-Lehane spends time telling us how much Patrick loves his wife and especially his daughter then he spins on a dime and willfully puts himself in (sometimes needlessly) harmful situations.

-The de-balling of Bubba is now finally complete.

-The dialog just sparkles. Lehane can do dialog, especially with these two characters, and he knocks it out of the park here.

-The Belarus Cross sub-plot. On one hand it was like something that even Dan Brown would have passed on but has anyone considered the possibility that the cross given to Yefim was a fake? Dre was the one who had the cross and he told Patrick all about the building where he delivered the babies and how it housed movie props. It’s further possible that Yefim knew it was a fake but didn’t care because whether it was fake or not didn’t diminish its ability to act as a totem of power.

-The quiet and bittersweet ending of the book and series. Putting criticism aside I found myself getting caught up in the emotional sweep of some of the final moments and reading with a catch in my throat when Patrick realizes he’s done.

With all of that said I’m glad I read it and with all of the deep discounts and stuff I paid a trade paperback price for a hardback so it was worth what I paid for it. In spite of my lengthy criticisms of the book I can ultimately recommend it even if I say wait for the paperback.

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Brian Lindenmuth

Brian is the non-fiction editor of Spinetingler magazine and one of the fiction editors of Snubnose Press. In addition to Spinetingler his work has appeared in Crimespree magazine and at BSC Review, Galleycat and the Mulholland Books website. He also heads the Spinetingler Award committee.

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About Brian Lindenmuth

Brian is the non-fiction editor of Spinetingler magazine and one of the fiction editors of Snubnose Press. In addition to Spinetingler his work has appeared in Crimespree magazine and at BSC Review, Galleycat and the Mulholland Books website. He also heads the Spinetingler Award committee.

4 Replies to “The Moonlight Mile In My Mind: My Thoughts on Moonlight Mile by Dennis Lehane”

  1. Just finished this off in a couple of days, so I’ll agree with you that it’s a real pageturner. I’ll also agree that it is slight, and not what I expected or hoped for.

    I haven’t read the original Kenzie/Gennaro books in years — not since they were released — so my recollections of “Gone, Baby, Gone” were more based on the movie. As such, perhaps I wasn’t looking for as much emotional resonance as you you were because I didn’t fully remember the import of what happened in that earlier book.

    Still, this seemed fairly paint-by-the-numbers in terms of plotting, and kind of flat all around. It made me wonder if those earlier books are as good as I remember, or if Lehane’s subsequent work on “Mystic River” in particular just set up unrealistic expectations.

    If this were Lehane’s first book, it would be seen as a competent debut, but it will carry more weight than that because of who he is and what this represents.

    Still and all, a compelling read that is well worth picking up for Lehane fans, but disappointing given the potential and the hype.

  2. I’m starting this book today after my wife finished it last night. She and I are both fans of the series, and in fact think it’s Lehane’s best work. My wife loved this book, said it “wasn’t as dark” as previous entries in the series, and thinks I’ll love it too. Very entertaining, she said. Wondering if this isn’t just a different take on those “missed opportunities” mentioned above. As expressed in Mystic River especially, we think Mr. Lehane’s bleak, class-based view of the world is too dismal.

  3. I normally take weeks to read a book but this one I finished in less than 2 days. Very quick and fun on the surface. But I couldn’t help but think as I was reading “This is what I’ve waited for?” That feeling never really went away.

    John Kenyon’s review above where he compares this to paint-by-the-numbers plot is exactly what I was thinking. It was entertaining, I’m glad to have read it, and above all, I’m glad the characters have proper closure. Being left with “Prayers for Rain” as the last book bothered me for years. So in that sense, it was satisfying.

    But the book itself was the least favorite out of all of them. There was so little emotion I thought. In the other books, I felt these characters. In this one, I know what I was supposed to feel coming from the characters but that’s as far as it went. Maybe I did myself a disservice by re-reading the series in the last couple months in preparation for “Moonlight Mile” and so the differences were like night and day.

    Dialogue though was still great. I just wish the plot, especially considering all the ramifications after “Gone, Baby, Gone,” had been better. And the sad lack of Angie in most of this just killed some of the enjoyment for me.

  4. I’m still reading, but my wife offers one more comment: Lehane is a much happier person today then when he wrote the other books, and it shows in his writing.