Monday, 28 September 2009

L is for Lehane

I promise to try to keep the film versus book review to a minimum in this review.

However, there will be a bit of it – I’ll try to keep it to this section. Gone, Baby, Gone, is a book written by Dennis Lehane. Lehane also wrote Mystic River, directed by Clint Eastwood and with a galaxy of stars. Gone, Baby, Gone was the directorial debut of Ben Affleck. If you’re in the UK, you’ve probably never seen it as it got a pretty limited release. That’s because the missing child in it looks a little bit like Madeleine McCann. Nevermind that the book was written in 1998 – I reckon that if The Two Towers came out now, it would also have a delayed release.

Anyway, so the book is about two private investigators, Angie Gennaro and Patrick Kenzie. Apparently it’s a sequel, as all the way through there are references to another case which the two were involved in. This was slightly annoying, although I think I’d find it more annoying if I’d read the other book and then had to put up with repetition of prior knowledge in this book.

Amanda McCready is a three or four year old girl who is reported missing by her good for nothing junkie mother. The police, the neighbours and the rest of the family aren’t doing enough, so the PIs are hired to chip in by the aunt and uncle. Over the next few hundred pages, a story unfolds with lots of shady characters and corners for Gennaro and Kenzie to poke around in.

There’s nothing technically wrong with Lehane’s prose, but I found it to be sludgy and slightly boring. After reading Kesey last week, it was disappointing to read Lehane’s clunky dialogue and awkward exposition. Amanda’s age changes between pages – she’s referred to as a three year old on one page and four two pages later.

Besides that, he repeats himself a lot. Like a lot. Like, enough times to fill Wrigley field ten times over. And he loves Boston. And Ireland. Like, everyone’s a Boston Irish. And they love America. And Ireland. Well, you get the idea. Probably the worst part of this was that Lehane thinks he’s a good writer, evidenced in the swagger of his paragraphs.

I also found the characters difficult to tell apart. From the cops to the villains, they all had a 2D, cookie cutter feel about them which meant it was hard putting a personality to the name. Even for the big reveal, I struggled to remember was involved. Helpfully, Lehane reminded the reader of who everyone was. Even the main characters were difficult to pin down – at the end of the book, I knew nothing of Pat and Angie. I had no emotional investment in them because all I knew was that they were private detectives who semi-lived together.

The plot was let down by the sketchy characters and sludgy dialogue, but was still interesting. I can’t go into too much detail because there’s a pretty big twist at the end. Basically, it’s a morality tale about how sometimes justice fails and normal citizens find that they have to do things they think are right, but the law doesn’t. The most pleasing aspect of the book was this grey area between good guys and bad guys – you don’t get very good or very bad guys (or gals), but a caricature of what normal people are.

Another thing that turned me off Lehane was how negative the book was (I know, just read the review for a bit of irony, right?). Of course, in a book about child abductions it’s not going to be rainbows and lollipops all the way, but there were needless niggles and character aspects built in to random people’s personalities. Bubba’s hatred of The Smiths seemed to transcend the character and come straight from Lehane’s mouth, and so didn’t seem relevant or appropriate. Also, I love The Smiths. There were other examples, which have been buried elsewhere in my brain.

Gone, Baby, Gone is not a bad book, but there are millions of better ones out there. My recommendation, if you like crime, is to read Marshall Karp or Christopher Brookmyre.

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