Dennis Lehane, "Gone, Baby, Gone"

Dennis Lehane, "Gone, Baby, Gone"

I don’t usually do books with recurring heroes. Cotton Malone in Steve Berry’s The Charlemagne Pursuit, and Michael Gruber’s Jimmy Paz in Valley of Bones come to mind as the few attempts I’ve made into “Another X adventure” or “Another Y novel”. To be fair, I don’t like the two books that I just mentioned, and I don’t like their swashbuckling, daring heroes, either.
 
Thus, I didn’t know that Dennis Lehane’s Gone, Baby, Gone was a recurring hero novel until I was about a quarter-way through the 512-page book. But by then, I couldn’t put the book down. I didn’t put the book down until I finished page 512.
 
Private investigators Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro are called to investigate the baffling disappearance of 4-year old Amanda McCready. They are aided in the case by the girl’s aunt and uncle and a police department so desperate for a break in finding her that they are willing to work with two hotshot PIs with blood on their hands. The rabbit hole proves much deeper than anyone ever guessed, with Amanda’s disappearance only a small piece in a very large puzzle. Through it all, Kenzie and Gennaro, who have found comfort in each other’s love after their shared experiences on previous cases, now find that everything they loved about each other and believed about themselves is tested in the face of indifference and inhumanity, evil, and - most destructive of all - love.
 
After A.J. Zerries’ The Lost Van Gogh, one of the most immediately refreshing things about Gone, Baby, Gone are the lack of police cliches. Officers Broussard and Poole are engaging, witty and far more interesting than most of the law enforcement characters you’d find in this type of literature. Jack Doyle, lieutenant in charge of the case, is the hard-nosed, world-weary, trench-coat wearing figure from gritty crime novels, but even he gives our intrepid heroes some latitude and respect, instead of gruffly ordering them to leave the investigation to the police. That is, of course, until they screw up, but that’s another story.
 
As private investigators and lovers, Patrick (never Pat) Kenzie and Angie Gennaro make an interesting team. There is a lot of history between them, which I imagine is covered in previous Lehane books, and which comes into life via name-dropping and event-referencing in Gone, Baby, Gone. For fans of the dynamic duo, or fans familiar with Lehane’s previous work, I’m sure it’s great seeing Kenzie and Gennaro’s character development and their past adventures referred to in Gone, Baby, Gone. It doesn’t quite work for a new reader such as myself - not Lehane’s fault, of course, but one reason why I’m not the world’s biggest fan of recurring hero novels.
 
Another reason is that the heroes in these books usually have the world revolve around them, but Kenzie and Gennaro are far more interesting than that. Early in the novel, they collaboratively deter a rape attempt on Gennaro, who confesses that she was truly scared for herself much later in the story. Later on, she tells Kenzie that she doesn’t want to simply have a baby with him - she wants to have his baby. It’s a powerful moment between the two, and it makes the conclusion of Gone, Baby, Gone all the more poignant - these books always promise that the heroes’ lives will be forever changed, or that their relationship will never be the same. And you know it’s not going to happen, like one of the giant “reset” buttons on Star Trek - but Lehane’s book is one of the very few I can remember which actually keeps that promise.
 
Given the subject matter of Gone, Baby, Gone, it’s not that surprising. Lehane hits us at our most vulnerable, and some of the crimes depicted in his book will haunt you long after you’re done reading it. The cast of characters complements the story - from wise-cracking, genuinely interesting cops, to private detectives who don’t simply shrug off what they’ve seen, to the mother of young Amanda McCready, who lives her life around her TV Guide - before, during and after her daughter’s disappearance (and once while there are decomposing bodies in the kitchen of a stranger’s house). But just as we’re ready to condemn Helene McCready for her negligence (or maybe long after we’ve done so), Lehane gives us a peek into what goes on behind the self-pitying, oblivious facade. The moment - both at the time and the role it plays in the conclusion of the novel - will send shivers down your spine.
 
Lehane assembles an impressive array of human scum and New England lowlife, but the real villains of Gone, Baby, Gone will surprise you. And long after you’re done with the book, you’ll catch yourself wondering what you would have done if you were there.
 
Gone, Baby, Gone is a novel that works on many different levels: an intricate, well-crafted whodunnit; distinctive and remarkable characters; and a resolution that blurs the expected line between right and wrong. There’s evil in the book, don’t get me wrong - evil that takes what we love and hold most dear for its own pleasure and satisfaction. But as with all things in life, it’s not merely - or easily - a battle between right and wrong, good and evil. Sometimes there’s more to it than that, and in the tenuous gray areas where we always second-guess ourselves, you might be gone, baby, gone.