Somehow the first in the Kenzie/Gennaro series escaped my attention. I found this little gem at a local bookstore for only $5. Love getting real books by my favorite authors at great prices! I have absolutely no idea how I have read all the books in this series, except this one. Very odd.
In A Drink Before War, we meet Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro for the first time. The two private investigators, working out of a church bell tower in Dorchester, are hired by a pair of local government officials to find a black cleaning lady seemingly because she took some important government documents before randomly disappearing. Of course, being a Lehane novel, nothing is as it seems and we are treated to the unraveling of a government cover-up of the most heinous of crimes. While doing this, Patrick and Angie also run afoul of local Dorchester gang leaders who have no qualms about trying to kill off our intrepid investigators.
I have previously gushed about my love for all writings Dennis Lehane here, so I won’t go into that again. Needless to say, I feel very similarly towards this book. For a debut in this series (written in the 1990s), this is an exceedingly strong tale. Patrick and Angie are instantly fleshed out as full characters, with character development occuring over the course of the book. More interestingly though, is Lehane’s take on race relations. Often times race relations are only central to stories set in the South, but not so here. Lehane offers an in-depth and poignant view of the clash of races in Dorchester — an area made up of blue collar whites (often Irish-American), and areas of deep poverty, primarily populated by black and Hispanic individuals. His take on this is raw and real, and take the book to a deeper level than the typical crime thriller. This is the beauty of a Lehane novel, it is never as simple as what you think it will be, and will challenge you to look at your own biases and prejudices. Needless to say, I really loved this book and am tempted to go back and re-read more Kenzie/Gennaro books.
Read more of my reviews here!
Sacred, the third book in Dennis Lehane’s superb mystery series, picks up 6 months after Darkness, Take My Hand. Shell shocked Boston private detectives Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro are trying to rebuild their lives after the devastating events of their previous case and have stopped taking new work. However, billionaire Trevor Stone needs their help so badly that he kidnaps the detectives to persuade them to locate his missing daughter, Desiree. Despite Trevor’s unorthodox methods Angie and Patrick are intrigued by the case – and the $50,000 retainer doesn’t hurt, either. As they dig deeper in to Desiree’s disappearance they uncover a shady grief counseling company, connections to a heroin smuggler, and and a never ending stream of lies.
After the brutal Darkness, Take my Hand; this novel is almost whimsical in comparison. There is still dark aspects and plenty of violence but there is a lot more humor and the stakes are not quite as high. Even facing death Patrick and Angie are more wisecracking and cavalier, as if the previous case has broken them of any optimism for the future they once had. We learn more about how Patrick became a detective and Angie continues to deal with her grief over the loss of a loved one at the hands of a serial killer. Ultimately, the case they are working on is thematically the B plot. Even the title has nothing to do with the case, and is only referred to and spelled out in the final pages. The horrifying events in Darkness, Take My Hand has forced the detectives to rely on each other completely and this makes them a formidable opponent for anything that is thrown at them.
Lehane finds the balance between the suspense and the humor in Sacred, making for a very fast paced and enjoyable story. The book starts off fast and never lets up until the wicked conclusion. Along the way the bullets are flying, the bodies are piling up, and Angie and Patrick are back to doing what they do best: staying a half step ahead of their adversaries and not stopping until the case is closed.
Sacred is not nearly as thematically weighty as its predecessors but it is a lot more fun and bridges the gap between the two heavy entries in the series of Darkness, Take my Hand and Gone Baby Gone.
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.
Angela’s face was a warm whisper in my ear. “If he should kill me, Patrick-“
“if he should, you have to promise me something.”
I waited, felt her terror rattling up through her chest and squirming out the pores of her skin.
“Promise me,” she said, “that you’ll stay alive long enough to kill him. Slowly. For days, if you can manage it.”
“What if he gets to me first?” I said.
“He can’t kill us both. No one’s that good. If he gets to you before me”- she leaned back a bit so her eyes could meet mine – “I’ll paint this house with his blood. Every inch of it.”
Darkness, Take My Hand, the second of Dennis Lehane’s mystery novels featuring Boston private detectives Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro (The movie Gone Baby Gone was an adaptation of the 4th Kenzie/Gennaro novel of the same name), continues the slide into the dark side that ended the previous novel, A Drink Before the War. The Kenzie/Gennaro novels are told from Patrick’s perspective and this one starts with a prologue before moving into a flashback from 2 months before to tell the story. From the beginning prologue it is very evident that the story is not going to be a happy one and Lehane proves the reader right in ways that are surprising and heartbreaking.
During the warmest autumn anyone can remember, Patrick and Angela are hired to investigate the harassment of Diandra Warren, a criminal psychologist. In addition to threatening phone calls, she has recently received a surveillance photograph of her son Jason in the mail-no note attached. She hires Patrick and Angela to find out who is behind the harassment and protect her son. It’s not long before the detectives are running afoul of the Irish mafia and running for their lives from a pair of demented serial killers.
The action once again takes place in the Boston neighborhood of Dorchester and central to the plot is the neighborhood and the people who live there. This is the same neighborhood where Kenzie and Genarro grew up, so when they go for a sit down with the Irish mob they are sitting down with men they’ve known most of their lives. They aren’t friends with these criminals but they know them. They grew up with them, went to school with them, they know their histories. Touching everyone in the story is a series of murders that are so horrifying in their ferocity that criminal and innocent alike are left fearing for their lives.
While the city of Boston still feels real in Darkness, Take My Hand it has much in common with the unnamed city of David Fincher’s film, Se7en. Which is ironic because the book and the movie came out in the same year. Both feature a killer that wants to teach a lesson through horrific murders and both are given to making grand statements and philosophizing on the reason why they sadistically murder innocent people. Also, both stories seem to function more as allegory rather than a realistic mystery procedural. This is a dark and desolate tale, the only light that shines is the close bond between Anglela and Patrick, and the relationship between Patrick and a doctor named Grace. From the second page we know that Patrick’s relationship with Grace is doomed, but we don’t know what is going to happen to end it. This makes the few scenes of happiness between Grace and Patrick all the more heartbreaking when we know that things are not going to end well.
The tension in the novel is high from the tone-setting prologue to the bloody finish. I don’t read a lot of mystery novels, but Lehane writes in such an engaging way that the books are nearly impossible to put down. More than one lunch hour ran long as I kept saying to myself “Just one more chapter…” and I stayed up later than usual most nights trying to read as much as possible.
Darkness, Take My Hand is a great book. It is well written, engaging, and will stick with you. It’s not too hard to figure out the identity of the main killer but the atmosphere and writing is so well done you won’t mind. However, it’s not one you will likely revisit due to the subject matter. This a serial killer story at heart and at times is much closer to “horror” than “mystery”. The brutality of the killings is staggering and the book doesn’t shy away from the clinical details of the crime scenes. If you don’t have the stomach for this, you may want to stay away. The journey is an unpleasant one but ultimately worth taking.
NOTE: The Kenzie/Gennaro novels are an ongoing series and make reference to events and characters in the earlier books. For that reason it is best to read them in published order below.
A Drink Before the War
Darkness, Take My Hand
Gone Baby Gone
Prayers for Rain