Petalfrog’s Review #21: Gone Baby Gone by Dennis Lehane

Patrick Kenzie and Angie Genarro are private detectives in Dorchester, Massachusetts, one of the “toughest” neighborhoods of Boston. They are hired to find Amanda McCready, the four year old daughter of neglectful Helene who barely even registers that her child has gone missing (unless television cameras are around, of course). Amanda’s aunt Beatrice and uncle Leroy are desperate to find her. Kenzie and Genarro reluctantly agree to help the two Boston detectives on the case, Poole and Broussard. They quickly find themselves deeper in the case than they could possibly imagine. Used to gangster violence in their hometown of Dorchester, Angie and Patrick find themselves facing new levels of evil beyond what they previously thought possible.

I cannot even describe how much I love this book. It is incredibly difficult to read at times in terms of the content and the difficult ethical issues coming up. On the surface it is a story about a child kidnapping, but underneath it’s really about the depravity of man. The things that humans, both on the side of “good” and “evil,” are willing to do to achieve their, often selfish, needs. When I first read this book, there were points where I had to stop and physically take a breath because the emotions ran so high. On this second reading, my emotions were less triggered, but my mind could not get over the reality that people could be so cruel to others. I know this, everyone knows this. We see it in the news, we see it online, but somehow reading it in a fiction novel makes it feel so real and tangible.

This is NOT a pleasant book, yet this is an incredible book. It is exceptionally well-written. Again, the material is heavy, more so than the other Kenzie/Genarro books. Lehane does temper it with a dry, dark sense of humor in his characters which keeps the book from becoming morose and depressing.

The plot is not overly complicated, and offers just that balance of realism and twistiness to keep the reader engaged throughout. Lehane makes excellent use of Boston, especially Dorchester. I live in Dorchester, so I love reading the Kenzie/Genarro books as it is. He captures the working-class neighborhood excellently. Despite having the apparently highest murder rate in Boston (thanks movie!), the majority of Dorchester is a lovely place to live. There are parks and beaches and lots of working-class/immigrant families. People are not running around waving guns or beating people up… and I think Lehane does a good job of showing that most of the criminal tomfoolery goes on, where I suspect they actually do, in bars. I also love Patrick and Angie. I love their relationship with Bubba, who is undoubtedly a bad man. He is a criminal gangster through and through. I love the added layer of complication given to the PI pair, who while trying to do good for others are willing to have Bubba help them even though his techniques are certainly less than legal.

Dennis Lehane is easily one of the best modern writers. He is most well-known for Mystic River I believe which is another excellent book (although I despise the movie with every piece of my body). I highly recommend him to anyone looking to add a new author to their bookshelves. Gone Baby Gone is an excellent stand-alone book, even though it is part of the Kenzie/Genarro series. Five stars.