Created by Dennis Lehane
Dennis Lehane‘s 1994 A Drink Before the War rocked the boat when it came out, and introduced childhood pals turned Boston private eyes PATRICK KENZIE and ANGELA GENNARO. Patrick and Angie grew up in an Irish/Polish/Italian working-class neighbourhood where “your boundaries begin in the schoolyard and last a lifetime” (according to Margaret Cannon). Certainly they both have the scars to show it. .They now run their detective agency out of a church where “all manners of unholiness cross(es) their threshold”
Cannon went on to declare the book “a major debut,” and she wasn’t wrong.
Patrick and Angela are on-again, off-again lovers, who–in between the bickering and worldviews often continents apart–nevertheless seem to work well together. They often seem to rely on Bubba Rogowski, their arms-dealing old school buddy who, I must confess, I found more interesting than either of them, despite his ridiculous name (Bubba? Sheesh!). He’s described by Patrick in the acclaimed 1994 series debut A Drink Before the War as
Despite the acclaim, however, I wasn’t convinced. I found the characters seemed just too much like characters, if you know what I mean, and subsequent novels seem to have wandered all over the stylistic map, nipping into the serial killer genre here, borrowing a little David and Maddy from Moonlighting there (albeit in a suitably hard-boiled way, of course). A lot of violence, and overblown plots full of child abusers, rapists, wife beaters, serial killers and other monsters to seemingly prove Lehane’s hard-boiled cred, plus a little soul-searching, and the almost-obligatory-by-now psycho sidekick make these seem like almost a blueprint for nineties hardboiled fiction, albeit on a larger scale than most — prompting me at one point to unintentionally refer to the fourth book in the series as Long, Baby, Long.
But what did I know? The series has proven extremely popular, and Lehane’s reputation grew in stature with each new book. The successful film adaptation of his standalone Mystic River certainly didn’t hurt, either.
And then actor Ben Affleck, another Boston boy, chose the 1998 Kenzie/Gennaro novel Gone, Baby, Gone as his directorial debut. It was, by almost any measure, an audacious choice that resulted in one of the great P.I. films of all time. No, it’s not Chinatown or The Maltese Falcon, but it’s within spitting distance. In stripping the story down to its bare bones, Affleck succeeded in making me see the books in a new light, and it dawned on me what I had missed on the printed page: the moral burden Kenzie drags with him throughout the series.
Which made me far more receptive to Moonlight Mile (2010), Lehane’s return, after an eleven year absence (Patrick started knocking on the door again, Lehane explains), to the Kenzie-Gennaro series, and perhaps significantly, a sequel of sorts to the film version of Gone, Baby, Gone. With a new-found appreciation of the characters and more muscular plotting, I completely bought the premise.
In fact, Moonlight Mile may be one of the most important books in–and about–the private eye genre that I had read in years: audacious, uncompromising, mature, provocative and, oh yeah, delivering some truly kick ass action.
Let’s hope Patrick knocks on Lehane’s door again soon… this time, I’m ready.
- “A Drink Before the War was a hauntingly brilliant debut that carried the theme of war–between the sexes, the races, the tribes and generations–into the realm of art. Almost a year after I read it, I can still remember its impact and how I sat up all night devouring every page.”
–– Margaret Cannon (The Globe and Mail)
- A Drink Before the War (1994) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- Darkness, Take My Hand (1996) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- Sacred (1997) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- Gone, Baby, Gone (1998) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- Prayers For Rain (1999) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- Moonlight Mile (2010) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- GONE, BABY, GONE | Buy this DVD | Buy the Blu-Ray | Watch it now!
Based on the novel by Dennis Lehane
Screenplay by Ben Affleck and Aaron Stockard
Directed by Ben Affleck
Produced by Ben Affleck, Sean Bailey, Alan Ladd Jr. and Danton Rissner
Executive producer: David Crockett
Starring Casey Affleck as PATRICK KENZIE
and Michelle Monaghan as ANGIE GENNARO
with Slaine as Bubba Rogowski
Also starring Morgan Freeman, Ed Harris, Amy Ryan
Whew. It’s been a long time a-coming, but we finally have a great P.I. film for this millennium And I don’t mean “pretty good” or “not bad”–I mean “great.” Ben Affleck made his directorial debut with this one (he later won an Oscar for Argo), stepping up to the plate and knocking it out of the park. This is an almost perfect film, from the razor-sharp cast (inluding the deservedly Oscar-nominated Amy Ryan, and featuring Michelle Monaghan and Ben’s kid brother Casey’s as P.I. couple Angie Genarro and Patrick Kenzie) to the bravura adaptation of Lehane’s novel, which cuts all the fat off, and gets right to the story’s dark, black heart. A measure of this film’s success is the anger some (including the Girl Detective) have expressed at the film’s ending. Not that they didn’t believe it, but that they didn’t agree with it. Morally ambivalent, brooding, bittersweet–this one will pierce your heart. Guaranteed. It’s the sort of film that reminds me why I love detective fiction. Highly and heartily recommended.
- The January Interview with Dennis Lehane
1999 interview conducted by Karen G. Anderson.
- Dennis Lehane and George Pelecanos: Hard-boiled Buddies
Illuminating interview conducted by Crescent Blues, featuring Dennis Lehane and fellow crimewriter George Pelecanos at a joint reading and book signing at the Mystery Bookshop in Bethesda, Md., in June 1999.
- A Drink Before the War
The Thrilling Detective review by Christopher Friesen.
- Ah, Boston, You’re My Home