Sunday 25 February 2018

King of Boston noir delivers gripping tale

Thriller: Since We Fell, Dennis Lehane, LittleBrown, hbk, 418 pages, €18.79

Since We Fell
Since We Fell

Myles McWeeney

Dennis Lehane, Boston-Irish to the core, is regarded as one of America's best writers in any genre. He has enjoyed a multi-faceted career both as a thriller writer and as a creator of original hit TV series such as The Wire and Boardwalk Empire.

Many of his books have been turned into box-office hits, including his 2001 novel Gone, Baby, Gone, directed by Ben Affleck, Shutter Island directed by Martin Scorsese, and Clint Eastwood's Mystic River, which starred Sean Penn. The most recent film adaptation of one of his books is Live by Night, produced and directed once again by Ben Affleck, who also starred as a tough-as-nails Prohibition-era Irish-American gangster called Joe Coughlan from Boston, who becomes involved in a vicious turf war in Florida over the rum-running trade.

Lehane's latest thriller, Since We Fell, is set in contemporary Boston, even if the opening sentences could have come from classic American noir fiction of the 1930s and 1940s, from the pens of writers like Raymond Chandler or Mickey Spillane: "On a Tuesday in May, in her 35th year, Rachel shot her husband dead. He stumbled backwards with an odd look of confirmation on his face, as if some part of him had always known she'd do it."

It is a brilliant hook, because immediately the reader wants to know exactly who Rachel is, and why she has just shot her man. But this time Lehane takes a very different tack from his usual linear line of narrative, and gradually reveals Rachel's back story in a series of individual vignettes.

She is the daughter of a single mother who enjoyed brief success as the author of a book on how to stay married, and who always refused to tell Rachel who her father was. After her mother's death, she searches for her father while clawing her way to the top in the highly competitive world of cable news. However, while on an assignment to the tornado-stricken island of Haiti in 2010, she suffers an on-screen meltdown that costs her her job.

This book is very different from many Lehane novels in that it is set in the yuppified Back Bay area of the city, and not in the criminal underworld of working-class Dorchester where he grew up. But for those who might be worried that Lehane has abandoned the tough-as-nails heft of storytelling that is his signature, half-way through Since We Fell the author delivers a brilliantly orchestrated change of gear that radically challenges the mentally fragile Rachel, now married to an old friend, Canadian Brian Delacroix. It changes her from a needy, agoraphobic woman into someone who manages to cope better than might be expected with the unusual and dangerous challenges her husband suddenly thrusts upon her.

This portion of the book is pure Lehane, packed with action and intrigue, featuring, as is often the case in his work, a strong female character who manages to rise above her circumstances and surprise herself and those around her. Fresh and gripping to the end.


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