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