The Kenzie and Gennaro Series, by Dennis Lehane

Before he wrote Mystic River, Dennis Lehane wrote a five book series of gritty detective mysteries set in Boston. These books feature Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro, two private investigators who get involved in some pretty twisted and dark novels. Over the last week, I felt the need to re-read these books--probably because Ben Affleck just filmed the fourth book, Gone Baby Gone.

A Drink Before the War: This novel introduces our heroes. Like a lot of noir detectives, Kenzie and Gennaro are a wise-cracking pair. The mystery is, after a few twists and turns, fairly straight forward. We know who dun it and why. But what makes this novel interesting is the way that it deals with racism in its twenty-first century incarnation. In Lehane's world, racism is far from gone. And I'm sure that a lot of people would say that he's right. Lehane uses his characters to show how how tense things are from the white and African-American experience and, at times, it's hard to take because I don't see how the characters can get past their hate and distrust of another race.

Darkness Take My Hand: In this book, Kenzie and Gennaro uncover a very dark and violent secret, one that has its roots in their past. This is also a book that explores the human capacity for violence, and how fairly innocent people can be twisted by evil. Most mysteries that I've read, the motives are understandable: greed, lust, the rest of the seven. But in this book, there's no reason for what the villains do except that their own inexplicable pathologies tell them to. Sacred: I think this might be my least favorite of the series. It's a good book, and it's a necessary read if you want to move on, but I don't feel like Lehane used this book to explore the deep issues that came up in the first two books. Although, he does create a pair of extremely greedy and clever villains in this one. I wonder if Lehane was giving Kenzie and Gennaro a bit of a break after the last book.

Gone Baby Gone: This one is the hardest book of all, even more than Darkness Take My Hand, because it brings up a lot of hard to answer questions about justice and the responsibilities of a parent. One the one hand, Kenzie and Gennaro were hired to return a child to her mother, and the law makes it very hard for a natural parent's rights to be taken care away. But on the other hand--and I hate to ruin the book for people--the mother is extremely neglectful of her child and will probably ruin her. I am very curious to see how the movie treats these subjects. There are a lot of ugly things that happen in this book.

Prayers for Rain: In this book, Kenzie and Gennaro have to take on most twisted psyches. This book isn't so violent as Darkness Take My Hand, but the baddies destroy lives by making people's worlds crumble.

After Prayers for Rain, Lehane put out a couple more books, but I miss his presence in literature. He hasn't put anything out for several years, and I really wish he'd write more. He's a very talented man, and his books are much more profound than the stuff you'll find in many mystery novels. According to what I read in his Wikipedia article, he's got a book going--and it sounds damned interesting*--about the Boston Police strike in 1919. I am really looking forward to this one, and I hope it comes out sometime soon.

*XKCD was right when he put out this cartoon about how addictive Wikipedia is. After reading about the police strike, I ending up looking at articles about Boston history and I found this gem about the 1919 Molasses Disaster. Fascinating reading.


Lamb, by Christopher Moore

I was feeling a little down at the beginning of this week, so I pulled out a book that I knew would cheer me up. I've read it at least five times before, but it never fails to make me laugh out loud. Also, every time that I read Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal, by Christopher Moore I get something new out of it.

This time, I was really struck by the way that Moore incorporated Buddhism and Taoism into the book in a way that was both highly entertaining and very educational. I only ever took one class in Asian philosophies, but I remember having a hard time wrapping my mind around how Buddhists and Taoists see the world. I've often joked about that fact that I'm not relaxed enough to be Buddhist, even though I see the value it in. But having read the descriptions of Buddhism and Taoism, I wish I could see things as clearly as the monks in this book.

Also, I am always affected by the ending of Lamb. Even though the first parts of the book are just packed with hilarity, the ending is so wonderfully bittersweet. It's incredibly moving for a book that's billed as comedy.

The Sunrise Lands, by S.M. Stirling

The Sunrise Lands
The Sunrise Lands
The Sunrise Lands is the fourth book in Stirling's disturbing series, set in an alternate reality were electricity and explosives no longer work. In this book, the descendants of the characters from the first three books travel across what used to be the United States. Having read this book, I have to agree with some of the reader comments that I saw on Amazon.com. For me, the most interesting parts of this book was seeing what happened outside of the Willamette Valley after the Change. And it looks like Stirling has really outdone himself creating the baddie in this book. The guy only exists on paper, but he really gives me the willies. The only problem I had with this book is that it is clearly the first book in a second trilogy, and so it ends feeling unfinished. It's a 450 page book, but I still felt like there ought to be more to the plot--especially give than at least the first half or more of the book is just set up for the journey east. This book only really gets exciting in the last third.