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By Dennis Lehane

HarperCollins, 2010 ($26.99)

ISBN: 978-0-06-182693-2 (hardcover)
ISBN: 978-0-06-183695-4 (paperback)
Kindle edition ($8.99)

Reviewed by Sam Waas

It's been twelve years since we last encountered the Boston private detective team of Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro in the intriguing, intricately plotted "Gone, Baby, Gone." Amanda McCready, a neglected four-year-old girl from the old neighborhood, was missing. Patrick and Angie took the case and uncovered a kidnapping ring that shook the roots of the Boston power structure. This modern noir novel was a deserved hit with mystery fans everywhere.

Amanda is now sixteen and she's disappeared again. Patrick and Angie accept the assignment with some reluctance, because they have themselves begun a new life phase and don't wish to be dragged into the old ways. They're married with a daughter of their own. Angie is finishing college while Patrick struggles to fit in harness at a prestigious PI agency.

The impulsive, young, risk-taking PI team is no more. They've grown up and find themselves treading water as they again dive into the murky troubled depths of the past. Immersion in the dirt and squalor from their former rougher lifestyle evokes unpleasant memories and challenges the newfound stability of their family. This is the principal conflict on which "Moonlight Mile" is based, and for its own, is an excellent premise. Problem is, the story line becomes tenuous if this nostos (homecoming) is the only enduring support for the novel. Rather than a complex and engaging story throughout, the "change of life" element is spread too thin, and there are insufficient ancillary plot threads to sustain the novel's pacing further. Much of the book seems padded with extended scenes of Patrick and Angie driving around Boston and its environs, tracking one suspect after another, and not a lot happens when they reach their destinations, either — far fewer confrontations than in the previous novels, and when they do occur, are soft-pedaled. Supporting characters, for the most part, also seem one-dimensional and lack verisimilitude.

Frustration with the economy and current housing problems also seem to be a central theme, when in fact this has almost nothing to bear on the case, valid as these points may be in today's society. If an author has a political axe to grind, fine. But when the shavings off the grinding wheel clog up the narrative, it's time to effect a cleanup.

"Moonlight Mile" begins with a gripping, enticing few chapters, then sags into a tenuous plot that ambles along until a vivid finale finally invokes a partial rescue from the well-written but mundane center of the novel.

Dennis Lehane is an author of immense talent and skill. "Mystic River" is superb, "Shutter Island" is a masterpiece of psychological tension, and his earlier Kenzie-Gennaro mysteries are top drawer, particularly "Gone, Baby, Gone." Sadly, although still a good read, "Moonlight Mile" falls short by comparison. Fans who were anticipating an exciting Kenzie-Gennaro sequel may feel a bit shortchanged. They deserve better.

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