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The Long and Faraway Gone by Lou Berney — book review

“That was Wyatt’s philosophy when it came to the past: Stay out of it. ”

The Long and Faraway Gone is a well written if somewhat uneven novel.

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I can definitely see why it has drawn comparisons to books by Dennis Lehane. Both authors render a strong sense of place, so much so that the settings of their stories transcend the role of backdrop, becoming an active character into their narratives, one that can—and will—sway the direction of the story.

One of the links between two apparently unrelated storylines in The Long and Faraway Gone is that they both take place in Oklahoma City. In the summer of 1986 two young individuals experienced tragic and traumatic losses: Wyatt was the only survivor in an armer robbery while Julianna’s alluring—and troubled—older sister Genevieve went missing during the annual State Fair.
Years later Wyatt—now a private investigator—and Julianna—a nurse—grow increasingly preoccupied over the past . Soon their obsessions will derail the course of their everyday lives as they jeopardise personal relationships, and their careers, by undertaking investigations of their own.

Wyatt’s humour and emphatic nature made him into a compelling protagonist. His story seemed a lot more fleshed out and coherent than Julianna’s. While I was willing to look past Wyatt’s mistakes, and understood why his stay in Oklahoma City affects him so much, I was unable to reconcile myself with Julianna’s appalling behaviour. Her narrative seemed to have a lot more padding, and while her ‘investigation’ definitely had some tense moments, I was always looking forward to return to Wyatt’s story.
It was interesting to see how their storylines occasionally mirrored one another, yet Lou Berney never resorted to throw an unlikely connection between the two as a way of linking these two stories together.

Berney, similarly to Lehane, is skilled in giving each of his characters—regardless of their role—a convincing personality. With a few clever descriptions, and by articulating those idiosyncrasy relating to an individual’s mannerisms or their way of speaking, Berney creates realistic and memorable characters. Regardless if we like them or not, his characterisation is such that they do not fall neatly into a ‘good person’ or ‘bad person’ category. Because his characters are rendered in such vivid detail, his dialogues crackle with energy. There are so many great lines and exchanges that make The Long and Faraway Gone into such an engaging novel.
The resolution to the main characters’ interrogation of their past, although unexpected, is surprisingly mundane. Berney doesn’t try to make the characters’ tragedy into part of larger and unlikely plot, providing instead solutions that are far more realistic.

In spite of a few minor quibbles—mostly relating to Julianna’s narrative—I thought that The Long and Faraway Gone was an engaging read and I am eager to read more by Berney.

My rating: ★★★✰✰ 3.5 stars (rounded up to 4)

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Since We Fell by Dennis Lehane – book review

{BCDD7B8F-9FFC-4D64-A58A-5C4F6BC77B70}Img100.jpgDennis Lehane has written many superb novels, and while Since We Fell demonstrates many of his strengths, the story seems a lot less focused than his usual ones.

The intriguing prologue leads into a story which follows Rachel Childs. In the first 1/4 of the novel we follow her quest for her father. I found this part interesting and I believed that it would relate somehow to the prologue or to later events…it did not. This whole section seems to belong to a different novel altogether, and this ‘disjointed’ impression became stronger as the story ends up becoming close to an action-film.
There are many things that I enjoyed. Lehane’s writing style is propelling enough so that even in the the slower chapters I remained interested in the storyline. He can create nuanced and memorable characters with just a few sentences, and his ability to capture different personalities is, as per usual, amazing. Rachel’s character arch was compulsive and Lehane manages to trace and contextualise many of her weakness and traumas back to her childhood and to one fateful trip she took as a news reporter to Haiti.
What didn’t ‘grab’ me was the romance. The relationship between Rachel and her husband…so much remains unexplained that I found the ending to be hugely underwhelming. So many pages are wasted on things that have little to no bearing to the story and then in the last act of the novel things just ‘kick-off’ in a mad series of action and chase scenes.
Overall, this novel was less than the sum of its part. There were some brilliant moments that brimmed with suspense, but there were also many scenes which felt silly and over the top.

My rating: ★★★✰✰ 3.25 stars

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Sacred by Dennis Lehane

Kenzie and Gennaro are hired by an incredibly wealthy – and dying – Trevor Stone to find his missing daughter. Things soon start to get complicated. Kenzie’s own mentor was looking for Desiree Stone and is now also MIA. Kenzie and Gennaro will venture from a shady Grief Counselling organisation, that is possibly connected to a religious cult, to sunny Florida. Money and the power that comes with it play a big role in this novel, and as the protagonists soon find out, money is a good motive.
While Lehane does incorporate more affecting moments into his storyline grief is a big theme of the novel – I found that this instalment was much more lighthearted that the previous ones. Horrible people do horrible things in this story but there was a ‘flashy-ness’ a dramatic aspect to their behaviour that undermined the seriousness of their actions. Still, while there were some high-end film-like scenarios, Lehane’s characters convey incredible realism: their dialogues and reactions ring true to life. I also deeply appreciated that we are shown that what happened in the previous novels has affected Kenzie and Gennaro. Their partnership is a vital aspect of this serious and I was happy to see how solid their relationship is,
Deeply entertaining and fast paced, Lehane packs another suspenseful and highly-strung story.

My rating: 3.75 stars

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Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane

While this might not be Lehane’s best novel, it is one of his most suspenseful ones.
Having watched the screen adaptation years ago, I was worried that I would not be able to find the twist as shocking…well, I shouldn’t have worried. Lehane is always able to shock his readers.
A story that thrums with tension, Shutter Island constantly questions its own narrative and characters. A mounting uncertainty accompanies readers – and the story’s protagonist– in what soon reveals to be a puzzling – and inexplicable – mystery. The disappearance of a patient in a hospital for the criminally insane brings U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels and his partner Chuck Aule, to Shutter Island. Teddy’s investigation is further complicated by the island’s uncooperative staff and an incoming hurricane. In the midst of these adversatives Teddy is forced to confront his own past. A confined setting and plenty of suspicious characters add more fuel this mystery.
Lehane’s ability to flesh out different characters is as good as ever. Through a few sharp observations, or a word or two, he is able to bring characters to life: they are all remarkably vivid. Teddy, Chuck, the orderlies, the doctors, they all strike an impression in the reader.
Lehane’s very immediate style intensifies the emotional charge of his scenes. Also, his narration reflects the protagonist’s state of mind, causing an instantaneous reaction in the reader.
This a story if violence, denial, and trauma. While it may be upsetting (*ahem*…devastating…) it is also incredibly engaging novel, one that poses plenty of challenging questions.

My rating: 4.5 stars

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Darkness, Take My Hand by Dennis Lehane

“Guns, guns, guns. Three hundred and sixty degrees of pure violence.”

The thing about Lehane is that he can write bloody good thrillers. His gritty stories –reminiscent of hard-boiled crime novels– never fail to entertain. Moreover, he always, always, manages to surprise – if not shock– you.
Kenzie and Gennaro’s investigation is full of well-paced twists and turns that will keep you on the edge of your seat. Like the other Kenzie & Gennaro novels, Darkness, Take My Hand has a great sense of place. The urban setting is vividly rendered through characters and the sharp descriptions of the narrator. Lehane’s observations are always nuanced, and while Kenzie might gives us the majority of the ‘picture’, all of the characters contribute to it. Lehane doesn’t elevate Kenzie’s opinions and intentions, in fact, time and again, he challenges the actions of his protagonist.
The narrator is another of this series’ strengths. Kenzie’s wise-ass commentary is always engaging. However, in comparison to A Drink Before the War I think there is more serious, or more complex, tone to him, one that brings his character fully to life. This added depth is also found in all of the other characters. Lehane’s has an ear for dialogue and the little things that characterise different people; it might be the way they talk and or move, as much as their own backstories.
Kenzie’s investigation never takes a predictable turn. From the very start we are given numerous factors that lead us away from what seems to be Kenzie’s main investigation, leaving us desperately in need of answers. Lehane shows interest in the psychology of criminals (fans of Mindhunter…read this): he does not give us easy answers, he is always fighting against the ‘good/bad’ morality.
Gripping and suspenseful, this novel is brimming with dangerous characters and an intricate mystery. It is a fast-paced thriller full of sharp-witted dialogues and action set against a mobile backdrop that thrums with life.

My rating: 4.5 stars

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A Drink Before the War by Dennis Lehane

“Come on, kids.”
I stood. “Where?”
“There’s a bar around the corner. Lemme buy you drink before the war.”

Despite having read two of the later instalments of Kenzie & Gennaro, I was still able to enjoy this first investigation of theirs. They are perhaps less weathered than their future selves but their line of enquiry is equally engrossing. Lehane’s distinctive wit characterise a lot of the narration, and Kenzie’s wisecracks pepper his story. The tone of his later novels are somewhat less jokey: experience might have diminished Kenzie’s – very entertaining – wise-ass commentary.

No one spoke for a few moments. I think we were all too impressed by the realization that we knew someone who used “conundrum” in casual conversation.

The story is rooted in Boston: Lehane’s vivid rendition of the city pulses with life. He swiftly illustrates neighborhoods through amusing and accurate observations. Here is a nugget of his sharp-witted descriptions:

If Donald Trump puked, Copley Place is probably what would hit the toilet.

Yes, the building has marbles fountains and golden statues.
Lehane also takes time for more serious and reflective contemplations. A lot of his commentary addresses the way in which certain neighbourhoods appear to one another and how these preconceptions inflamate hate.
Part of the focus of this novel is the strife between the opposing gangs, however, I think Lehane incorporates a lot more than that through his plotlines. There are the ‘powerful and untouchable’ politicians, the police, the ones who have to live in a ‘war-torn’ terrain. Lehane emphasizes how they all similarly try to drive a wedge between them and ‘the others’. Kenzie is not a flawless rendered judgment-free character. He too shows – to his own remorse – prejudiced behaviour.
Kenzie is one of the novel’s strengths. He is so incredibly engaging that it is hard for the readers to want to leave him.

“I go on the presumption that everyone’s full of shit until proven otherwise, and this usually serves me in good stead.”

The story propels us through Kenzie’s investigation which include more than a few ‘rough’ encounters. While the action drives forwards the plot, we also get a lot of interesting and unhurried scenes which helps to give us a fuller picture of the characters involved.
Characters are another of Lehane’s fortes. Besides the endearing protagonist, we have a series of believable and complex characters vividly depicted through Lehane’s skillful style.
For example, through a few remarks, he aptly evokes Bubba’s ‘essence’:

“If Bubba could have been born in another time, like say the Bronze Age, he would have been all set.”

While the mystery and the plot are not as complex and intricate as the following instalments, this first novel introduces us to Kenzie, Gennaro and Bubba, and on the whole, it allows us for a more depth reading of their characters.

“The world according to Bubba is simple – if it aggravates you, stop it. By whatever means necessary.”

My rating: 4.5 stars

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Mystic River by Dennis Lehane

Thrumming with suspense Mystic River is a gritty crime novel, one that focuses more on the psychology of its characters rather than the crime itself.
On the one hand, the story follows the violent death of a young girl, Katie, on the other, we have three young boys, boys who used to be friends until one of them is kidnapped. Lehane portrays grief in a vivid manner: we see how much Katie’s death affects those who loved her. Characters are fleshed out: they act in such a genuine way that they feel real. There is Jimmy who we know has had troubles with the law, and is hiding something, then there is Sean, someone who seemingly seems as if he’s doing rather well but really isn’t, and finally there is Dave, a complex and very confused man that has never really recovered from his kidnapping. An array of equally well-developed characters serve as friends, enemies, families of these three men. I was particularly aware of the way Lehane portrays masculinity, Jimmy, Dave and Sean showcase and battle with their emotions in a way that challenges ideals of men having to ‘bottle up’.
An engaging and challenging novel that is fueled by a solid plot. Lehane’s noir is one that combines tough scenes and edgy dialogues with more introspective moments, all of which are rendered beautifully by his dynamic prose.

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

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