Tag Archives: Dennis Lehane

Foiled again. Lehane and Pavone take home the Edgars.

macbethSeth Godin and I have something in common.  In his recent blog post, he points out that he saw Alan Cumming on Broadway in an out-of-the-box one-man version of MacBeth.  Critics, particularly Charles Isherwood in the New York Times, didn’t like it.  Seth loved it, leading him to wonder what purpose critics serve.   I found this ironic, as Seth is also a critic of a sort, whose commentary is wide-ranging.  All of this is a long lead-up to the fact that the Mystery Writers of America Edgars Banquet was last night and my top-ranked nominees for Best Novel and Best First Novel didn’t win.

live_by_nightCongrats are in order for Dennis Lehane for Live by Night.   In my review, I noted that many people would love this book, but I wasn’t one of them.  So at least I got that right.   This historical crime drama actually came in fourth on my list.   I am, in many ways, astounded that Gone Girl didn’t win.  I console myself that it must have been a close thing.  As a refresher, here’s how I ranked the Best Novel nominees:

  1. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
  2. The Gods of Gotham by Lyndsay Faye
  3. Sunset by Al Lamanda
  4. Live By Night by Dennis Lehane
  5. The Lost Ones by Ace Atkins
  6. Potboiler by Jesse Kellerman
  7. All I Did Was Shoot My Man by Walter Mosley

expatsIt was deja vu all over again when it comes to Best First Novel.  Matthew Quirk’s The 500 got my nod.  Chris Pavone took home the Edgar for The Expats.  As my review recounts:  I enjoyed the book, but found it a little convoluted and had a hard time really caring about the main characters.  On the other hand, I did think it would make a fantastic movie.   Here was my final lineup for Best First Novel:

  1. The 500 by Matthew Quirk
  2. Don’t Ever Get Old by Daniel Friedman
  3. The Expats by Chris Pavone
  4. Black Fridays by Michael Sears
  5. The Map of Lost Memories by Kim Fay
  6. Mr. Churchill’s Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal

Sigh.  The Edgars are over for another year.  On the other hand, nominations are open for 2014.   Might be fun to keep on eye on it throughout the year – I see William Kent Krueger’s Ordinary Grace is there already!

Lehane’s Live By Night Last Edgar Finalist – winner in Lunchbox ranking revealed!

lehaneBoston native Dennis Lehane has had a particularly energetic career in fiction, penning his first book, A Drink Before the War  which introduced the recurring characters Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro.  It won the 1995 Shamus Award for Best First P.I. Novel.  The series has gone on to much general satisfaction, although Lehane took a break for a few years before coming back with the most recent in the series, Moonlight Mile (Lunchbox review here).  He’s also gone standalone and historical.  Several books have been made into successful movies (Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone, Shutter Island).  And although he’s been an Edgar finalist twice previously, it was for writing the TV series The Wire that Lehane won an Edgar (Best TV feature or mini-series).

live_by_nightNow his book Live By Night is up for Best Novel.  It’s the second book in the historical crime saga featuring the Coughlin family, set during Prohibition.  The novel features Joe Coughlin, who rebels against his police chief father by turning young to an exciting life of crime.  The book covers a tumultuous decade, during which Joe runs afoul of the law, falls in love with a mobster’s girlfriend, uses his smarts to rise to a position of power, takes over Tampa, forms an unlikely alliance, falls in love and marries a Cuban woman, has a family, is exiled, makes a comeback, and his wife is murdered.  It’s a sprawling story with many characters, filled with action and a noir attitude.  It’s no surprise that Ben Affleck’s making the movie.

This is a tough one for me to review and rate!  I like Dennis Lehane as an author, and there was a lot about Live By Night to admire.  I was interested in Joe Coughlin as a character; he’s a romantic hero in the classic sense, rejecting the norms of society – first, the norms of his “law-and-order” father, then the norms of his new society, the mob.  (Demonstrated by his ability to work well with others outside his own racial/ethnic/cultural background.)   His personal growth and the love story were strong positive aspects of the book.   And of course, the language and visual imagery is first-rate.

Ultimately, it’s the broad scale of Live By Night that is its undoing for me, when it comes to this personal review and ranking.  The characters are well-drawn, but there are just too darn many of them.  The violence is shocking, but there’s so much of it, the impact is lost.  The plot takes many a twist and turn, but it’s easy to lose interest along the way.   Simply put, some folks are going to absolutely adore this book, but I’m not one of them.

So time for the final word on the Literary Lunchbox Ranking for the MWA Edgar Allan Poe award for Best Novel.  Since Live by Night is not battling for top place, I’m going to use personal preference as the basis.   I’m putting it squarely between Sunset and The Lost Ones.

I’m calling the Best Novel contest for Gone Girl.  We’ll see, come May 2, if i’m right.  Here’s the final ranking:

  1. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
  2. The Gods of Gotham by Lyndsay Faye
  3. Sunset by Al Lamanda
  4. Live By Night by Dennis Lehane
  5. The Lost Ones by Ace Atkins
  6. Potboiler by Jesse Kellerman
  7. All I Did Was Shoot My Man by Walter Mosley

Thumbs up for Howard Owen’s Oregon Hill

What kind of sociopath kills a college freshman, decapitates her, and ships her head to her father in a box?  Cops say that it was the sleazy, hit-on-the-coeds 32-year-old Martin Fell, but police beat reporter Willie Mays Black has his doubts.  True, Fell’s not a fabulous guy, and he did argue with Isabel Ducharme that night.  But he says he drove to his Mom’s house that night, she backs him up, and there’s that mustard stain on his shirt.  It’s the mustard that convinces Black that Fell might just be actually telling the truth.  Plus, it’s a long way from killing a girl because she slapped you to mailing her head to her father.    How Willie Mays Black gets to the bottom of this crime, and others, is an excellent read.

Howard Owen’s Oregon Hill reminds me of Dennis Lehane‘s Mystic River and the Patrick McKenzie/Angie Gennaro books, including Gone Baby Gone.  The plot, the people, and their motivations all hinge on a shared history and a strong sense of place.  Oregon Hill is in Richmond, Virginia, and as Wikipedia tells me, it’s a white working class neighborhood.

Willie’s the almost-50, half-black son of the former neighborhood roundheels who’s sliding into old age, genial and perpetually baked.  Going to jail or going on the cops are options that are about equally likely for kids growing up in Oregon Hill in the 70s.  No surprise, race and class make a big difference in Richmond.

The good-hearted, up-from-the-working class, aging alcoholic with multiple failed marriages character may be a bit of a cliche in crime fiction, whether he’s cop, PI, or reporter, but Howard Owen does a great job with Willie.  His character feels real, but more than that, he feels fresh.  The reader cares about Willie, his ex-wives, his daughter, his mother and her current live-in, even his friends, contacts and connections.  And the way Willie doggedly uncovers the link between today’s crime and a miscarriage of justice from the past, and lives to write about it, keeps those pages turning.

It’s no surprise that Howard Owen can write – he’s a journalist and now editor of the local paper in Fredericksburg, Virginia.  No wonder his depiction of the pressures on newspapers today is so realistic.  He’s definitely going on my list of authors I watch for.  Best of all, he has a back list – Oregon Hill is his 10th book.  Fab.

Lehane’s Patrick Kenzie matures

“They were written from a young man’s perspective. I left Patrick when I was 33 and he was 33. I’ve tried, but his voice won’t come,” said Dennis Lehane in the USA Today interview just two short years ago, explaining why he didn’t anticipate writing another PI novel featuring Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro.

People change.  Characters evolve.  Lucky for us that Lehane found a way to bring a new sensibility to his former series.  Some things haven’t changed.  Patrick and Angie are still very much in love.  They still hang out with Bubba Rogowski. Patrick’s still too honest, and not smooth enough, to ease through life by taking advantage of the offers that come his way.  And he’s still headstrong.

But it’s been 12 years since Gone, Baby, Gone was published and 12 years have gone by in the fictional Boston that Gennaro and Kenzie inhabit.  They’re married now, and have a four-year-old daughter.  From a financial perspective, they’re hanging on by the skin of their teeth.  Angie went back to school.  Patrick’s freelancing as an investigator, but has the promise of a permanent position… if he can only keep from calling the high-society clients “morons” and “assholes.”

And the young girl he recovered and returned to her mother in Gone, Baby, Gone, has grown up to be a hardened, smart, and too-wise for her years 16-year-old with big problems.   Did he do the right thing?  Yes, he’s sure of it.  Still, now that she’s disappeared again, perhaps he should let it go.  But that’s not his way. Angie, who remains convinced that Patrick did the wrong thing, sees it as his chance to make good.  So they’re on the same page.

A fast-paced read with well-developed and human, likable, and flawed characters, Moonlight Mile‘s maturity comes in large part from its focus on the nature of parenting.  What makes a good parent?   Amanda McCready’s kidnappers did time – and lots of it – for trying to keep her safe.  And the months she spent with them were the best months of Amanda’s young life.   Amanda has a meth-head mom and a felon stepdad, but are they as bad as her friend Sophie’s father, who kicked her out of the family home for not losing ten pounds in 40 days?  And what about the former doctor-turned-social worker who is running a baby mill for the Russian mob?  He only has to procure 525 babies for illegal adoptions and his debt is cancelled.   And what about Angie and Pat?  Is it enough to keep Gabriella safe by sending her off to Nona’s with Uncle Bubba?

Kenzie learns several valuable lessons in Moonlight Mile. One is that family comes first.

The second is that friendship can be found in unsuspected places. (Kenzie’s relationship with a Russian mobster could be the start of a pairing like Matt Scudder and Mick Ballou in Lawrence Block’s hard-boiled series.)

Third is that Patrick is clearly not the smartest person in the room.

And finally?  That if it’s hard, and it’s confusing, you’re not enjoying yourself, and you’re pretty sure that what you’re doing isn’t helping anybody, maybe you should stop doing it.

A very literary Christmas…

Well, the wrapping paper is all bundled up and the coffee pot is on its second brewing, and everyone seems very pleased with Christmas morning.  Snow blankets the ground and hangs heavily from tree branches, and acts as a thick coat of frosting on the evergreens.   It’s beautiful.  #1 son is wrapping gifts for his girlfriend while #2 son has taken his sheet music upstairs (where the piano is). Husband is online looking for the errant instruction manual for his fancy teapot. As you can see, I am blogging, despite the fact that no one else seems to be doing so.  But how can I not reflect upon my many gifts?  Books and pugs are what I’m known for.  So what did I get?  Books and pug stuff.

First of all, the lovely pug on this post was “borrowed” from buzzfeed, so to see the other holiday pugs, be sure to visit here.  On the pug side, I’m guessing all gifts were purchased from Cafe Press (this site is awesome!) and my gifts included:

  • 2 new pug mugs with a coffee theme – I’ll take mine black (black pug) and capppugcino (fawn pug).
  • Pug Christmas ornament
  • Pug book bag
  • Pug note cards
  • Pug Christmas cards (for next year)

Because we have so many mugs, the rule is we have to throw away or give away one for every new one we receive.  So mug-thinning will happen later today.

Book side:

It’s a good thing I have a few days off over the holidays because I have a lot of reading to do!  And, of course, I will need to pace myself because I made a commitment or two for social events, I’m still trying to get to the gym, and, oh yes, I am working my way v-e-r-y slowly through the writing of a new mystery.

Happy Holidays to all!

Best American Series Out for 2010!

Every year, I look forward to the appearance in bookstores of Mariner Book’s The Best American Series – an annual compilation of the best short fiction and nonfiction.  First purchase is always The Best American Mystery Stories. This year’s editor is Lee Child, and the series editor is Otto Penzler author and owner of The Mysterious Bookshop, now located in the Tribeca neighborhood of Manhattan.

Penzler selected 50 stories from among the who-knows-how-many submitted by authors, publishers, fans, as well as through the ever-so-vigilant scouring of potential publications by Penzler himself.  Lee Child then chose 20 of the 50.  Child is the author of Jack Reacher series, so it will be interesting to see if he chooses stories similar to the type he tends to write, or if he is more wide-ranging in his tastes.

I always turn first to the front of the book to scope out A) what authors I know have made the book and B) the original publication for the selected stories.   Dennis Lehane (known for Mystic River and Shutter Island, among others) has a story, as does Phillip Margolin, the criminal-defense-attorney-turned-bestselling-legal-thriller-author.

This year Ellery Queen is the source for three stories and the sister publication, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, has one.  Noir is in store with Boston Noir getting two nods and Black Noir with one.

I plan to read all the stories and rank them, with a special “call out” if there are any that I think I could have written myself.  (Don’t hold your breath on that one – typically 18 out of the 20 stories blow me away and two out of 20 are great, just not my kind of thing.)  So watch this space, or better yet, go buy the book and read the stories!

Contest for cash, conference admission

What a great idea!  The New England Crime Bake, the 9th Annual Mystery Conference for Writers and Readers (November 12-14, 2010 at the Hilton Hotel in Dedham, MA) has an associated short story contest.  Called the Al Blanchard Award (after the early conference co-chair), the winner receives $100, publication of the short story in an anthology, and free admission to the New England Crime Bake.

Contest rules are simple:

  • Story must be a crime story by a New England author or with a New England setting.
  • Story must be previously unpublished (in print or electronically).
  • Story must not be more than 5,000 words in length.
  • Story may include the following genres: mystery, thriller, suspense, caper, and horror. (No torture/killing of children or animals.)

Fortunately, my stories rarely include torture or killing of children or animals; I restrict my mayhem to adults. The hard part will be the New England setting. But I love constraints (thus my high school foray into sonnets) and the deadline isn’t until April 30th.  And, since I am behind in my plotting for book #2 in the series featuring actress/sleuth Paula Berger, I definitely need another distraction.  Plus, no fee to enter the contest.

The conference itself looks like fun.  Charlaine Harris is the guest of honor, which means that many contest entries will probably feature vampires, werewolves and the like.  (Note to self: Vampire who came over on the Mayflower?)  But more exciting to me is Dennis Lehane‘s participation.  His Mystic River is simply one of the best books ever.  And Shutter Island, which I found mesmerising and confusing, is now out as a mesmerising and confusing movie (until the light dawns at the end, of course).

Other conference details aren’t up and registration isn’t open yet… but I’m all over that contest.