Sunday, February 2, 2014

Dennis Lehane Masters the Tough Detective Genre

George Pelecanos is a victim of poor timing. It isn't his fault. He's a good author, and his The Way Home is a decent novel. It's just that I started his novel after reading Dennis Lehane's Moonlight Mile. Sorry, but anyone writing in the detective/prison/mob boss area of literature is at a serious disadvantage when Lehane's work is involved.

Lehane writes well enough that some of his books have become movies -- Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone, Shutter Island. A wise producer needs to grab Moonlight Mile. It has the natural hook because it is a sequel to Gone Baby Gone, with an older Amanda McCready again in extreme peril.

Part of Lehane's master's touch is the plot line. He has a 16-year-old Amanda, a series of American goons who enter the world of Kenzie and Gennaro (Lehane's protagonists in a detective series) and the Russian mob. Danger lurks throughout the novel, as expected. But Lehane separates his work from the lesser detective series through two things, dynamic dialogue and unusual and vivid characters.

Lehane's dialogue crackles. The exchanges are sharp but not in a forced way. There aren't a bunch of pop culture references thrown in to provide "authenticity." Kenzie and Gennaro talk like the married people they are. An exchange Kenzie has with a reporter is particularly entertaining. And, best of all, the dialogue between Kenzie and Amanda and Kenzie and Yefim, one of the Russian mob goons, is literary gold.

The development of Yefim's character particularly intrigues me. Yefim is a bad man in a Russian-mob way, which means he won't hesitate to do anything no matter the brutality involved, but Lehane injects his character with a vein of sinister charm. Yefim's statements often come across as a Russian trying to sound like a modern American guy. Here is a snippet of Kenzie-Yefim dialogue:

"I like the Sony, but Pavel swears by the JVC. You take two. You watch both with your wife and daughter, tell me which you like best. Hey?"

"Sure."

"You want PlayStation 3?"

"No, I'm good."

"iPod?"

"Got a couple, thanks."

"How about a Kindle, my friend?"

"Nah."

"You sure?'

"I'm sure."

He shook his head several times. "I can't give those (expletive) things away."

I held out my good hand. "Take care, Yefim."

He clapped both my shoulders hard and kissed me on both cheeks. He still smelled of ham and vinegar. He hugged me and pounded his fists on my back. Only then did he shake my hand.

"You, too, my good friend, you hump."

See what I mean? I am looking for a copy of Lehane's Live by Night but haven't found one yet on my journeys to Barnes and Noble. Maybe I will order it online, but it's next on my list of "want to read" novels. There is a good reason for that. The man is immensely talented.

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