In Lehane's 'Mile,' Blessings Tainted With Regret

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Dennis Lehane i

Dennis Lehane is the bestselling author of Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone, Shutter Island and other crime novels. Moonlight Mile is his first addition to his Kenzie-Gennaro detective series in 12 years. Teri Ruth Unger/HarperCollins hide caption

itoggle caption Teri Ruth Unger/HarperCollins
Dennis Lehane

Dennis Lehane is the bestselling author of Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone, Shutter Island and other crime novels. Moonlight Mile is his first addition to his Kenzie-Gennaro detective series in 12 years.

Teri Ruth Unger/HarperCollins

Twelve years ago, in Dennis Lehane's novel (turned hit Ben Affleck film) Gone Baby Gone, Boston private investigators Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro received a late-night phone call that would upend their lives. A woman named Beatrice McCready asked Patrick and Angela to find her 4-year-old niece Amanda, who was abducted from the home she shared with her mother. As Patrick and Angela closed in on the kidnapper, the case took several shocking and unexpected turns into a moral gray area.

Ethical quandaries of grand proportions are Lehane's specialty — he has been hailed as one of the greatest American novelists in any genre, but he is best known for his authentic, gritty Boston crime novels that turn on a dime. "It's a constant tension in most of my books, to be honest," he tells NPR's Scott Simon of his success. "In Gone Baby Gone, it was about a good man who made a very very terrible decision, and did very very terrible things to then try to clean up the mess caused by that decision."

"Patrick is always haunted by the fact that the people he really liked in that case [were the bad guys]," he adds, "and the action he really wanted to take was not the action he took. And that's the dramatic fuel."

Now, after more than a decade, Lehane addresses the consequences of the decision that Patrick is ultimately forced to make in the anticipated sequel, Moonlight Mile.

'He Has To Do What Society Demands Of Him'

Lehane's mysteries are defined by their unexpected twists, but he doesn't mind discussing the decision Patrick makes at the end of Gone Baby Gone. After the book's time on the best-seller's list, Lehane says, "the cat's out of the bag." In the novel's big twist, Patrick discovers that the 4-year-old Amanda was not technically kidnapped, but rescued from her own neglectful, drug-addicted mother and placed into a loving home.

Though Amanda was probably better off with her new family, Lehane knew that Patrick had to confront the federal offense of nabbing a child. "At the end he can't sit there and say it's OK for people to just kidnap whoever they decide is being raised by bad parents," the author says. "He has to do what is right, what society demands of him, which is bring the child back to her parents, to her mother."

"Emotionally, he knows for that particular child that's the bad decision," Lehane adds. "And it haunts him. He's done the right thing, but he was wrong. He's done the wrong thing, but he was right."

Now, in Moonlight Mile, Patrick is contacted again by Beatrice McCready; 12 years have passed, and her niece Amanda, now 16, is missing again.

Patrick has since married his long-time partner Angela, and this time, they find Amanda relatively quickly. Of course, she is furious with them for the choice they made when she was a child. She's also in deep trouble, which becomes the central mystery of the book.

"She's not playing by anybody else's rules, under any circumstances," hintsĀ  Lehane. "And just because you find her doesn't mean she's going to go with you. As a 16-year-old now she has choices."

"She wasn't terribly hard to find," he says. "And yet there's all these dangerous people who are looking for her. What is her play in all of this?"

Moonlight Mile
Moonlight Mile
By Dennis Lehane
Hardcover, 336 pages
William Morrow
List price: $26.99

Read An Excerpt

When Your Blessings Outweigh Your Regrets

Now that he's married and a father, Patrick's life in Moonlight Mile is no less complicated or morally complex. Caught in the undertow of the recession, he can no longer afford to be an independent contractor and has become an instrument of, for lack of a better term, The Man.

"He has to sell out some of his principles," Lehane says of the investigator. "He's looking to get the 401(k), he's looking to get benefits, he's looking to get, you know, health care. And in order to do that he has to work for a corporation."

Patrick's new work is accompanied by new ethical quandaries. In one particularly disconcerting case, Patrick goes undercover to expose a whistle-blower, a mother named Parry Piper. She's in violation of her contract, but is doing something good for her peers.

When she's taken away, she tells Patrick that he "seemed so real," a haunting indictment that stays with the character throughout his journey.

"Exposing her is something that is going to haunt him throughout the book," says Lehane. "Because again, he's right. He's doing what he's supposed to do. He's doing what his employers hired him to do. He's doing this in order to fulfill his first obligation as a father and as a husband, which is to put food on the table. But what is that costing his soul is certainly one of the questions of the book."

Not that Patrick's work for a private corporation — or his undercover efforts to expose Parry Piper — are particularly realistic, Lehane admits.

"Since the days of Spade and Archer, probably more private investigators were actually working for larger firms, for security firms, for brinks," he concedes. "But the archetype, the fictional archetype [of the private detective], has always been of the knight errants."

"You know the American private eye novel is just a continuation of the Western," he adds. "It's where the Western went when the bottom dropped out of the market for Westerns. So the private eye archetype has always been clearly that. There's no connection between the private eyes you see in fiction and real private eyes.

"Real private eyes spend most of their lives cooling their heels outside of courtrooms while waiting to go and testify in insurance cases. It's very authentic, but would make for an extremely boring book."

The realism that characterizes Lehane's books is much more rooted in his characters — their ethical debates, their disappointments. Toward the end of the book, when Patrick is in the embrace of his family, he states that his blessings outweigh his regrets. In Lehane's opinion, that's a sign of a life well lived.

"I think we might have this weird unrealistic expectation that we're supposed be happy," he says. "And I just don't think it works that way. I don't think it comes even close. But if you can get through a life where the ledger is that you have a 101 blessings and 100 regrets, or 1,001 and a 1,000, then on some level you won."

"You know, as the great line from [the 1963 movie] Hud says," he adds wryly. "'No one gets out of this life alive.'"

Excerpt: 'Moonlight Mile'

Moonlight Mile
Moonlight Mile
By Dennis Lehane
Hardcover, 336 pages
William Morrow
List price: $26.99

LANGUAGE ADVISORY: This excerpt contains language some might find offensive.

When the cab dropped him off, I pulled my digital recorder out of the glove compartment. The day I'd broken into his place and hacked his computer, I'd placed an audio transmitter the size of a grain of sea salt under his media console and another in his bedroom. I listened to him let out a bunch of small groans as he prepared for the shower, then the sound of him showering, drying off, changing into fresh clothes, pouring himself a drink, flicking on his flat screen, turning it to some soul-crushing reality show about stupid people, and settling onto the couch to scratch himself.

I slapped my own cheeks a couple times to stay awake and flipped through the newspaper on the car seat. Another spike in unemployment was predicted. A dog had rescued his owners from a fire in Randolph even though he'd just had hip surgery and his two hind legs were strapped to a doggie wheelchair. Our local Russian mob boss got charged with DUI after he stranded his Porsche on Tinean Beach at high tide. The Bruins won at a sport that made me sleepy when I watched it, and a Major League third baseman with a twenty-six-inch neck reacted with self-righteous fury when questioned about his alleged steroid use.

Brandon's cell rang. He talked to some guy he kept calling "bro," except it came out "bra." They talked about World of Warcraft and Fallout 4 on PS2 and Lil Wayne and T.I. and some chick they knew from the gym whose Facebook page mentioned how much extra working out she did on her Wii Fit even though she, like, lived across from a park, and I looked out the window and felt old. It was a feeling I had a lot lately, but not in a rueful way. If this was how twenty-somethings spent their twenties these days, they could have their twenties. Their thirties, too. I tilted my seat back and closed my eyes. After a while, Brandon and his bra signed off with:

"So, a'ight, bra, you keep it tight."

"You keep it tight, too, bra, you keep it real tight."

"Hey, bra."

"What?"

"Nothing. I forgot. Shit's fucked up."

"What?"

"Forgetting."

"Yeah."

"A'ight."

"A'ight."

And they hung up.

I searched for reasons not to blow my brains out. I came up with two or three dozen real fast, but I still wasn't certain I could listen to many more conversations between Brandon and one of his "bras."

Dominique was another issue entirely. Dominique was a blue-chip working girl who'd entered Brandon's life ten days earlier via Facebook. That first night, they'd IM'd back and forth for two hours. Since then, they'd Skyped three times. Dominique had remained fully clothed but wildly descriptive about what would happen should (a) she ever deign to sleep with him and (b) he came up with the sizable cash allotment necessary to make that happen. Two days ago, they'd traded cell phone numbers. And, God bless her, she called about thirty seconds after he clicked off with bra. This, by the way, was how the asshole answered a phone:

Brandon: Talk to me.

(Really. And people continued to contact him.)

Dominique: Hey.

Brandon: Oh, hey. Shit. Hey! You around?

Dominique: I will be.

Brandon: Well, come here.

Dominique: You forget we Skyped. I wouldn't sleep with you there wearing a hazmat suit.

Brandon: So you're thinking about sleeping with me finally. I never met a whore decided who she'd do it with.

Dominique: You ever meet one who looked like me?

Brandon: No. And you're, like, near my mom's age.

And still. Shit. You're the hottest chick I ever —

Dominique: How sweet. And let's clarify something —

I'm not a whore. I'm a carnal service provider.

Brandon: I don't even know what that means.

Dominique: I'm totally unsurprised. Now go cash a bond or a check or whatever you do and meet me.

Brandon: When?

Dominique: Now.

Brandon: Now now?

Dominique: Now now. I'm in town this afternoon and this afternoon only. I won't go to a hotel, so you better have another place, and I won't wait long.

Brandon: What if it's a real nice hotel?

Dominique: I'm hanging up now.

Brandon: You're not hang —

She hung up.

Brandon cursed. He threw his remote into a wall. He kicked something. He said, "Only overpriced whore you'll ever meet? You know what, bra? You can buy ten of her. And some blow. Go to Vegas."

Yes, he actually called himself "bra."

The phone rang. He must have tossed it along with the remote, because the ringtone was distant and I heard him scramble across the room to get to it. By the time he reached it, the ringtone had died.

"Fuck!" It was a loud scream. If I'd had my window rolled down, I could have heard it from the car.

It took him another thirty seconds before he prayed.

"Look, bra, I know I did some shit, but I promise, you get her to call back again? I'll go to church and I'll deposit a boatload of the green in one of those baskets. And I'll be better. Just have her call back, bra."

Yes, he actually called God "bra."

Twice.

His ringtone had barely burped before he flipped his phone open. "Yeah?"

"You get one shot here."

"I know it."

"Give me an address."

"Shit. I — "

"Okay, I'm hanging — "

"Seven seventy-three Marlborough Street, between Dartmouth and Exeter."

"Which unit?"

"No unit. I own the whole thing."

"I'll be there in ninety minutes."

"I can't get a cab that fast around here, and it's rush hour soon."

"Then get the power of flight. See you in ninety. Ninetyone?

I'm gone."

The car was a 2009 Aston Martin DB9. Retailed for two hundred thousand. Dollars. When Brandon pulled it out of the garage two town houses over, I checked it off the list on the seat beside me. I also snapped five photos of him in it while he waited for traffic to thin so he could enter it.

He hit the gas like he was launching an expedition to the Milky Way, and I didn't even bother chasing him. The way he weaved in and out of traffic, even someone with the awareness of meat loaf, like Brandon, would see me riding his ass. I didn't need to follow him anyway — I knew exactly where he was going and I knew a shortcut.

He arrived eighty-nine minutes after the phone call. He ran up the stairs and used a key on the door, and I caught it on film. He ran up the interior stairs, and I entered behind him. I followed him from fifteen feet away, and he was so wired that he didn't even notice me for a good two minutes. In the kitchen on the second floor, as he opened the fridge, he turned when I snapped off a few shots on the SLR and he fell back against the tall window behind him.

"Who the fuck're you?"

"Doesn't much matter," I said.

"You paparazzi?"

"Why would paparazzi give a shit about you?" I snapped a few more shots.

He leaned back to get a good look at me. He grew past the fear of a stranger popping up in his kitchen and moved on to threat-assessment. "You're not that big." He cocked his surfer's head. "I could kick your bitch ass out of here."

"I'm not that big," I agreed, "but you definitely couldn't kick my bitch ass out of anywhere." I lowered the camera. "Seriously. Just look in my eyes."

He did.

"Know what I'm saying?"

He half-nodded.

I slung the camera onto my shoulder and gave him a wave.

"I'm leaving anyway. So, hey, have a good one, and try not to brain-damage any more people."

"What're you going to do with the pictures?"

I said the words that broke my heart. "Pretty much nothing."

He looked confused, which was hardly uncommon for him.

"You work for the Mayles family. Right?"

My heart broke just a tiny bit more. "No. I do not." I sighed.

"I work for Duhamel-Standiford."

"A law firm?"

I shook my head. "Security. Investigations."

He stared back at me, mouth open, eyes narrowed.

"Your parents hired us, you dumb shit. They figured you'd eventually do something moronic because, well, you're a moron, Brandon. This little incident today should confirm all their fears."

"I'm not a moron," he said. "I went to BC."

In place of a dozen comebacks, a shiver of exhaustion rippled through me.

This was my life these days. This.

I left the kitchen. "Best of luck, Brandon." Halfway down the stairs, I stopped. "By the way, Dominique's not coming." I turned back toward the top of the stairs and leaned my elbow on the railing. "And, oh yeah, her name's not Dominique."

His flip-flops made a sloppy-wet-kiss noise as he crossed the floorboards and appeared in the doorway above me. "How do you know?"

"Because she works for me, dumbass."

Excerpted from Moonlight Mile by Dennis Lehane. Copyright 2010 by Dennis Lehane. Excerpted by permission of William Morrow.

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