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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Moonlight Mile’

- The Washington Times - Friday, January 14, 2011

MOONLIGHT MILE
By Dennis Lehane
Morrow, $26, 336 pages

Much of the appeal of Patrick Kenzie and his partner, Angie Gennaro, lay in their lifestyle as a tough, wisecracking pair of detectives who stormed their way through the Boston underworld, made wild love in between and were very good at what they did in bed and out of it.

Who would have thought that reaching the ripe old age of 30, they would turn into a middle-class married couple with a modest house, a 4-year-old daughter called Gabby, a financial crisis of major proportions and job worries? Patrick is still the investigator we all remember with affection, but he is desperately seeking a permanent job with his company, which grumbles that his uncompromising attitude puts people off. And it may. Making nice to nasties is not what he does best.

Patrick and Angie are not a cuddly couple who live by conventional wisdom, and Dennis Lehane, who has made his reputation on tense and taut thrillers, has now put his main characters on the path to respectability looking toward retirement and life in the suburbs.

It doesn't work, which is disappointing, especially in view of the author's demonstrated talent for capturing the reader's attention for hundreds of pages in previous books. This plot is based on the lingering problems of a previous investigation that split the couple apart for months, when Patrick chose to return a kidnapped child to her monster of a mother. What made it worse from Angie's view was that the child, Amanda, was found living happily with a veteran detective and his wife who were the kindly kidnappers who wanted to save the child.

The choice of leaving Amanda with loving if illegal parents or taking her back to the slum to rejoin a mother who was little better than a prostitute was made by Patrick. His decision was that the child had to go back to her mother and justice must be done to the couple who had become her foster parents. While Angie walked out, and the adoptive couple went to jail, Amanda went back to a sordid life with her mother, and Patrick has been haunted by his action for a decade.

He and Angie reconcile and even get married and have a child, but the ghost of Amanda is in the darkness at the back of Patrick's mind. And suddenly, perhaps to nobody's surprise, Amanda at the age of 16 has again gone missing. Patrick is asked to find her and becomes involved in a complicated investigation that digs up the past in a most unpleasant way.

There are sadists, identity thieves, a methamphetamine ring, a 1,000-year-old cross, murders and a Russian gangster who is cheerfully homicidal and one of the more interesting characters in the book, And somewhere out there is the missing Amanda.

Patrick is beaten up, robbed, tortured and warned not to get involved. Of course he does, and Angie sends her daughter to stay with her mother while she resumes her old role as Patrick's lively partner. Except it isn't the same. When Patrick finds Amanda he realizes too late that adhering to the letter of the law had done her no favors. However, she has turned into a young woman old beyond her years who has learned how to take care of herself and has never had any doubts about how her life should have been, had her rescuer been less obsessed about legality rather than humanity.

Amanda is a walking reproach to Patrick, who concedes that he did the right thing, but still was wrong, Worst of all, he has to acknowledge that decent, well-meaning people paid a high price for his mistake and also for his arrogance.

In many respects, the book is a sequel to "Gone, Baby, Gone," the original story of Amanda's disappearance and the miserable life she lived with a mother who wasn't even ashamed of her behavior. That was a dramatic story that twisted and turned on its way to a sad denouement and lasting pain for all involved except Amanda's mother.

It's true that the setting of this story is several years later and the rambunctious young investigators are entitled to have sown their wilder oats and settled down. But even so, Patrick and Angie were the kind of people unlikely to ever become dull.

When Patrick throws his gun into a river as a symbolic gesture of his rejection of the life they have led, while contemplating going back to school, it doesn't ring true. It's as if Mr. Lehane has let down his stars, consigning them to a life where they abide by all the rules.

He might consider that what made them so fascinating from the beginning was that they didn't so much break the rules as maneuver their way around them, fencing with authority, challenging wrongdoers and behaving the way they were. In recasting their philosophy as he has in this book, he has taken away not only the violence of the lifestyle, but the sense of adventure that imbued their operations. Suburbia ahead? Oh please.

Muriel Dobbin is a former White House and national political reporter for McClatchy newspapers and the Baltimore Sun.

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