Mystic River by Dennis Lehane
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I bought a hardback copy of Mystic River when it first came out, and I’ve been recommending it to everyone I know who has the slightest interest in crime fiction ever since. Oddly enough, it’s been almost 20 years since I first read the book, and I’d never revisited it until now. I love it, but there’s just so much Lehane-style depression that a fella can take.
In a working class Boston neighborhood during the mid-‘70s,three young boys encounter a couple of child molesters pretending to be cops. One of the kids, Dave Boyle, ends up being taken by them and endures several days of abuse before managing to escape. Twenty-five years later Dave still lives in the same old neighborhood with his wife and son. Jimmy Marcus didn’t get in the car with Dave. He went on to become the leader of a crew of thieves, but a stretch in prison and caring for his young daughter, Katie, set Jimmy straight. Now he runs a corner grocery store in the neighborhood. Sean Devine also avoided the pedophiles, and he’s grown up to be a homicide investigator for the state police while trying to cope with his crumbling marriage.
When Jimmy’s daughter Katie is brutally murdered, it’s a shock to the neighborhood. As Sean investigates the crime Jimmy has to deal with his grief. Dave was one of the last people to see Katie alive when she was out at a bar with some girlfriends, and he had no reason to hurt her. Yet, his wife Celeste knows that he came home late that night covered in blood…
A recurring theme that Lehane explores is the damage done by crime and violence, and that’s the thing that lingers over this book and makes it great. Jimmy is convinced that something in his own past was the reason Katie was killed even as he spent years trying to be ‘good’. Sean’s career as a policeman has made him misanthropic, thinking that the world is filled with stupid people killing each for stupid reasons, and it’s soured his personal life. Both of them are also haunted by how close they came to sharing Dave’s fate, and Dave himself refuses to talk about what happened to him even as many who know what happened consider him ‘damaged goods’.
Lehane takes all of these factors and adds a few more like what gentrification was doing to their old neighborhood to create one of the ultimate character driven pieces of crime fiction. The ultimate resolution and what happens both because of Dave getting in that car as a young boy and Katie’s murder seem like tragedies that beget more tragedies in a long string of unintended consequences.
Considering the ending and reading this now, nearly 20 years after it was first published, made me think that there could be another story by now. If Lehane went back now and told us what happened next, I’d want to read that book.
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