After publishing five books in the popular series featuring Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro, Dennis Lehane (A Drink Before the War, Prayers for Rain) has finally come into his own. With Mystic River, a passionate, ambitious novel of crime, punishment, and misplaced revenge, Lehane fulfills his early promise and takes his place as an important American writer.
Mystic River begins in 1975 in the blue-collar Boston community of East Buckingham. The defining event of the novel occurs when three young boys -- Sean Devine, Jimmy Marcus, and Dave Boyle -- encounter a pair of roving child molesters who pass themselves off as policemen. Two of the boys -- Jimmy and Sean -- escape, but ten-year-old Dave Boyle is not so fortunate and finds himself trapped in a four-day ordeal that changes his life forever.
Lehane then moves the narrative forward to a critical week in the summer of 2000. Sean Devine is now a homicide investigator for the Massachusetts State Police. His marriage has recently ended, and both his personal and professional lives are in disarray. The charismatic Jimmy Marcus is an ex-con who has opted for the straight life and is raising a family and working as the proprietor of a local mom-and-pop grocery. Dave Boyle, whose life peaked during his glory days as a high school baseball star, is a husband and father who has drifted through a series of dead-end jobs and is struggling continuously with the poisonous impulses that are the primary legacy of his abduction.
The lives of these men converge once again when Katie Marcus, Jimmy's oldest daughter, is murdered. As Jimmy grieves and plots revenge, Sean initiates a wide-ranging investigation that gradually illuminates the entire social structure of East Buckingham, a working-class neighborhood with its own peculiar history, myths, and tribal rituals. The investigation also raises troubling questions about the possible involvement of the deeply damaged Dave Boyle, whose path crossed Katie's on the night of her death. Dave's mysterious behavior and contradictory accounts of his actions make him a highly plausible suspect and set the stage for a violent -- and ironic -- denouement.
Mystic River is both a murder mystery and a novel of character. Like the very best fiction, it is, in the end, about many things: grief, sin, karma, hope and the lack of hope, the inevitability of change, the primal importance of family ties, the vulnerability of children, and the countless ways in which past events continue to influence the present. However you choose to read it, Mystic River is a deeply felt, beautifully composed novel by a gifted young writer who keeps getting better and who is helping to set the standards by which 21st-century crime fiction will ultimately be judged.
Bill Sheehan reviews horror, suspense, and science fiction for Cemetery Dance, The New York Review of Science Fiction, and other publications. His book-length critical study of the fiction of Peter Straub, At the Foot of the Story Tree, has been published by Subterranean Press