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GONE, BABY, GONE
By Dennis Lehane
Avon, (March, 1999), Hardcover, 422 pp. $25.00
Reviewed by Tom Kreitzberg (December, 1999)
Life is finally going well for Patrick Kenzie. His detective business is thriving, his relationship with Angie Gennaro, his partner and lover, is in full bloom. When Beatrice McCready tries to hire them to find her missing four-year-old niece, they say no. Let someone else deal with that heartache.
But you can't just turn your back on a little lost girl.
Dennis Lehane's GONE, BABY, GONE is a brutal, harsh, and astonishing novel. Lehane takes the fish-in-a-barrel emotional set-up of a missing child in wholly unexpected directions. There's too much at stake for the detectives -- both the private eyes and the cops from the Crimes Against Children squad -- to get overly sentimental, and the action builds too quickly for the story to bog down in insincere hand-wringing. We know that stealing a child is evil, and Lehane doesn't weaken the book by telling us. Instead, he lets the effect of that evil on the characters play itself out, at its own relentless pace.
There is a steady stream of villains: drug dealers, torturers, rapists, child molesters, all the way up to a sociopath who will kill you if you bother him while he counts his money. (The sociopath, incidentally, is one of the good guys.) The plot masterfully weaves all these characters, with their competing and interrelated goals, into the story of Patrick and Angie simply trying to bring Amanda back alive, if it isn't already too late.
GONE, BABY, GONE is ultimately a story about family. The families the characters construct for themselves, and the means they use to defend them, are not the stuff of the great American tradition. But where tradition fails, the need for family remains, and even the perverts and sociopaths know the value of loyalty.
The very reason Patrick and Angie take the McCready case is, at bottom, to defend the idea of family against whoever violated it by taking Amanda. That what is good for the family may not be what is good for society is the unsettling idea that Patrick Kenzie, and the reader, must face in the end.
Other books by Dennis Lehane include: A DRINK BEFORE THE WAR; DARKNESS, TAKE MY HAND; SACRED; and PRAYERS FOR RAIN.
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