Born August 4, 1965, in Dorchester, MA; son of Michael (a foreman) and Ann (a school cafeteria worker) Lehane; married 1999; wife's name, Sheila. Education: Eckerd College, B.A.S., 1988; Florida International University, M.F.A., 1993. Politics: "Relatively apolitical." Hobbies and other interests: Directing films.
Agent—Ann Rittenberg, Ann Rittenberg Literary Agency, 1201 Broadway, Suite 708, New York, NY 10001.
Writer. Therapeutic counselor for mentally handicapped, emotionally disturbed children, 1986-91; Florida International University, Miami, instructor in English, 1991-93; Ritz-Carlton Hotel, Boston, MA, chauffeur, 1993-95.
Shamus Award for best first novel, 1994, for A Drink before the War; L. L. Winship/PEN New England Award finalist, and Anthony Award for Best Novel, both 2002, both for Mystic River.
A Drink before the War, Harcourt (Orlando, FL), 1994.
Darkness, Take My Hand, Morrow (New York, NY), 1996.
Sacred, Morrow (New York, NY), 1997.
Gone, Baby, Gone, Morrow (New York, NY), 1998.
Prayers for Rain, Morrow (New York, NY), 1999.
Mystic River, Morrow (New York, NY), 2001.
Shutter Island, Morrow (New York, NY), 2003.
Writer, director, and producer of film Neighborhoods.
The film rights to Prayers for Rain were purchased by Paramount Pictures. Mystic River was adapted for film and directed by Clint Eastwood, 2003.
Fiction writer Dennis Lehane has been widely praised for his gritty crime novels featuring the Boston police detective partners Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro. However, he "hit the big time in 2001 with Mystic River, which quickly became a bestseller," a reviewer for the Economist explained. Mystic River, the story of three Boston, Massachusetts boyhood friends and a crime that ultimately tears apart their ethnic city neighborhood, has also been turned into a popular film under the direction of Clint Eastwood.
"There was never any doubt in Dennis Lehane's mind that he was going to be a writer," stated January contributor Linda Richards. "It wasn't much a matter of 'if' as much as 'how' and 'when.'" The son of working-class Irish immigrants, Lehane grew up in Boston during the 1970s and 1980s "with a sense that life was hard and unfair and you just tried your best," as he told Publishers Weekly interviewer Louise Jones. "Your children were your life and you did all you could for them." By age twenty, Lehane—a dedicated reader since childhood—was writing short fiction, although he never submitted them for publication "because my stories didn't meet my high standards," he explained to Jones. After graduating from college in 1988, Lehane entered the M.F.A. program in creative writing at Florida International University. From there it was just a few years until his first mystery novel, A Drink before the War, was published. In fact, he bucked the stereotype of the typical starving artist: "My publishing career is such a fluke," he told Jones. "I got to it faster than I expected. I have no publishing horror stories."
Lehane garnered several admiring reviews for his debut novel. The author's voice, "original, haunting and straight from the heart, places him among that top rank of stylists who enrich the modern mystery novel," noted a Publishers Weekly critic in reviewing A Drink before the War. Numerous other critics concurred that Lehane's hard-edged style, ambiguous characters, and unresolved endings combine to create some of the best in modern mystery writing. The main characters in most of his novels are Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro—two young, cynical detectives based in Boston, where they grew up together. Their debut in A Drink before the War showed "plenty of promise," according to Emily Melton in Booklist. New York Times reviewer Marilyn Stasio warned that the novel is marred by "a lot of cornball cliches and puerile private-eye humor," but she also admitted that Lehane "has some honest things to say about racial and class warfare in working-class neighborhoods.... This is good, serious stuff, but it's not easy to reconcile it with the flippant style."
Continues Adventures of Kenzie and Gennaro
Darkness, Take My Hand is the second novel featuring Kenzie and Gennaro, and it drew rave reviews from several critics. In this story, the two detectives search for a brutal rapist and killer with connections to their own past. Melton described the novel in Booklist as "an explosive story that is at once gutwrenchingly violent and achingly melancholy." In the novel's increasingly bloody plot, including several threats directed at its detective duo, "Lehane's perfectly crafted plot leers, teases, taunts, and lulls, scattering bits of humor and heartbreak among the soul-chilling episodes of death and destruction," continued Melton. People reviewer Pam Lambert was also enthusiastic, calling the book a "crackling thriller." She added, "Lehane's plotting is heart-poundingly suspenseful. However, even it is topped by the novels' subtler attractions: a sense of place as palpable as the pungent tang of garlic in the North End air, haunting characters and a gracefully elegiac style that lingers long after you've closed the covers."
Published in 1997, Sacred is "another gritty and surpassingly entertaining mystery" that proves Lehane "belongs in the big leagues," in the opinion of aPublishers Weekly reviewer. The critic pointed out Detective Kenzie's "smart and often funny narration" as one of the strengths of the book and commented that "for most of the novel, the punishing pace and internal plot logic perform in perfect tandem." Lambert gave her approval to Sacred in a People review, calling the book a "dark maelstrom of a mystery." She noted that, while in her opinion the novel lacks the "terrible beauty" of Darkness Take My Hand, it "still crackles with enough suspense to make for many a midsummer night's screams."
Detectives Kenzie and Gennaro engage in the search for a little girl kidnapped by a child pornography ring in Lehane's fourth novel, Gone, Baby, Gone. Karen Anderson, a reviewer for Library Journal, described the 1998 novel as "a tense, edge-of-your-seat story about a world that is astoundingly cruel and unbearably violent to its most innocent members." And Lambert, in a People assessment, called Gone, Baby, Gone a "chilling, masterfully plotted tale" that draws readers "into that dark place where men try to play God and everyone gets hurt."
As 1999's Prayers for Rain begins, Kenzie and Gennaro, having gone through a romance and a breakup, have decided to each go their separate ways. Kenzie works alone in Dorchester, while Gennaro has signed on for security work in a hightech firm. However, she is soon tempted away from the corporate life and back onto the street when Kenzie requires help in solving a mystery involving a former client who has apparently leapt to her death off the Customs House Tower. "The trail leads to a psychological predator, who pushes his victims to suicide, and an unresolved ending," commented Newsweek critic Louise Jones, expressing relief that Lehane's detective duo is "together again."
Charts New Course with Stand-alone Novel
Following five "Kenzie and Gennaro" mysteries, Lehane decided it was time to "give those characters a rest," as Adam Dunn put it in a CNN report. He turned his attention to a new kind of writing: the stand-alone novel. London Daily Telegraph reporter Michael Carlson noted that it is "exciting" to see such a departure: "Critics tend to devalue 'series' novels. . . . Recurring characters may be fine for Mark Twain or Anthony Powell, but for detective writers they are seen as just another genre shortcut." Lehane's resulting work, Mystic River, is set in working-class Boston, like his mystery series. But, according to Carlson, absent are the trappings of the detective tale, and instead the novel "brings the neighbourhood into bleaker focus."
Mystic River opens in 1975, when two eleven-yearold boys witness a third friend join two strange men in a car. Twenty-five years later, the boys' paths cross again. Sean is a burned-out cop; Jimmy is an ex-con whose teenage daughter has been murdered; and Dave, who suffered abuse at the hands of the strangers many years before, now "makes readers aware that he is a ticking time bomb," according to Dunn. Sean is assigned to investigate the murder of Jimmy's daughter; the prime suspect is Dave. The author, said Stasio in a New York Times Book Review appraisal, "spares nothing in his wrenching descriptions how a crime in the neighborhood kills the neighborhood, taking it down house by house, family by family." Newsweek contributor Malcolm Jones lauded Lehane's "near-perfect pitch when it comes to capturing the rage that fomented racial war in the '70s and today fuels the resentment of working-class residents being driven out of [their neighborhoods] . . . by skyrocketing property taxes and rents." Like all Lehane's books, added Jones, Mystic River "shimmers with great dialogue and a complex view of the world."
In her online interview for January Richards brought up Lehane's use of the Irish-American dialect in Mystic River. The author responded that "in immigrant cultures, particularly Irish which is a very storytelling culture, a very musical culture . . . there's a certain rhythm to the language." He credited his parents with imparting their verbal gifts, saying: "My only gift as a writer—the only thing I was given, everything else I worked for—was an ear. I always had a good hear. I could always write dialog."
In the thriller Shutter Island Lehane turned away from his earlier characters to write about two federal marshals, Teddy Daniels and Chuck Aule, who are sent to the insane asylum on Shutter Island to investigate the strange disappearance of one of the criminally insane patients. The missing woman is Rachel Solando, who was imprisoned for drowning her three children. As Daniels and Aule investigate the matter, they realize that the woman could not have escaped from the remote island without help from the inside. They also begin to wonder about Ward C, an area shut off from the rest of the asylum that may have something to do with mind-control experiments. Just as their suspicions are aroused, a hurricane hits the island, cutting it off from the mainland. According to Fred M. Gervat in Library Journal, the story "leads to an ending worthy of Agatha Christie or O. Henry." A reviewer for the Economist called the novel "enjoyably over-the-top gothic melodrama." As Lehane explained in an interview posted at the Powell's Web Site, "I said with Shutter Island that I would write a book that was an homage to gothic, but also an homage to B movies and pulp.... And when I finished it, I thought I'd done it. I had a hybrid of the Brontë sisters and Don Siegel's Invasion of the Body Snatchers in mind."
Lehane once commented: "My primary motivation for writing is that I'm not much good at anything else. Plus, if you choose a career in the arts, it's socially acceptable to sleep 'til noon and not groom yourself until dinner. In all seriousness, I'm not sure I have a primary motivation. I write because I enjoy it. I would do it whether I was being paid or not. I like telling stories. I like the way words look and the way they sound; I love their rhythm when they are strung together with precision.
"It's hard for me to point to particular influences on my work. I have been compared to Raymond Chandler on occasion, which I find odd, if only because I haven't read Chandler's work since I was nine or ten, and I don't remember much of it. While I write mysteries, I very rarely read them anymore, so I'm not sure anyone in that genre affects my own writing in any significant way. The summer I turned fourteen, I read The Wanderers by Richard Price, saw Martin Scorsese's Mean Streets, and heard Springsteen's 'Born to Run' for the first time, and I remember it all had a strong effect on me. For the first time in my life, I was exposed to literature, film, and music about the kind of people I grew up with, the kind of people I was interested in writing about."
"Otherwise, in terms of literature in general, I have been deeply impressed by the writings of Walker Percy, Don Delillo, Graham Greene, William Kennedy, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Pete Dexter, Toni Morrison, and Andre Dubus, to name a few. I guess you can see some of their influences in the thematic concerns of my novels, though not really in the execution of the plot or in the tone of my 'voice.'
"I barely have a writing process. I have tried to force myself to write every day, keep a journal, and so on, but all that seems to do is make me self-conscious. I tend to write best in big bursts after long periods of silence. During those bursts, I usually write sixteen hours a day, day in and day out, until the battery runs dry. I don't recommend this process, but it's the only one that's ever worked for me.
"I'm not entirely sure what inspired me to write on the subjects I've chosen. I never intended to be a mystery novelist. Before I wrote my first mystery novel, I was writing a lot of very dark, esoteric short stories, heavily influenced by Dostoevsky and Raymond Carver, Walker Percy, too, probably. I felt like I needed a break, and I decided to try something 'fun.' This turned out to be A Drink before the War, my first book. Because I set it in Boston, I tried to tackle the subject of race relations. If you are going to set books in Boston, sooner or later you have to deal with it; it's so intrinsic to the character of the city.
"For my second book, Darkness Take My Hand, I took an everything-and-the-kitchen-sink approach to it. I wanted to pay homage to the sort of moral murkiness that exists in the writings of Conrad and Greene and Delillo, to create a world in which you're never sure where anyone stands, where all motives are questionable, where the hero himself is very much in danger of becoming what he beholds as he chases some very twisted, evil characters around."
If you enjoy the works of Dennis Lehane
If you enjoy the works of Dennis Lehane, you might want to check out the following books:
Michael Connelly, The Narrows, 2004.
Robert Crais, The Last Detective, 2003.
John Sanford, Hidden Prey, 2004.
"To a large extent that's what interests me most. What is the hero's culpability in the events in which he's involved? When does the evil from 'without' threaten to become the evil 'within'? There's a popular idea in a lot of mysteries I've read that the hero must be the white knight, the upstanding man in an amoral world. It's a continuation of the Hemingway idea that a man must live by his code, and that code will see him through.
"Maybe because I'm a post-Watergate, post-Vietnam Gen X-er or whatever the current label is for people my age, I just never bought that good-will-out theory. It seems far more interesting to me to write about very flawed men and women in a very flawed world, trying to do the best they can to get along. Good doesn't always win out, but the attempt to do good matters a bit."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Book, March, 2001, Adam Dunn, "A Good Place to Die," p. 52.
Booklist, November 15, 1994, p. 582; July, 1996, p. 1809; April 15, 1999, review of Prayers for Rain, p. 1481; May 1, 2001, review of Mystic River, p. 1599; August, 2003, Jeanette Larson, review of Shutter Island audiocassette, p. 1999.
BookPage, February 2001, review of Mystic River, p. 10.
Boston Herald, March 4, 2001, review of Mystic River, p. 065.
Daily Telegraph (London, England), May 26, 2001, Michael Carlson, review of Mystic River.
Drood Review, January/February, 2002, Len Abram, "An Interview with Dennis Lehane."
Economist, May 17, 2003, "Dark and Stormy Nights," p. 76.
Entertainment Weekly, February 16, 2001, review of Mystic River, p. 90.
Esquire, February, 2001, review of Mystic River, p. 38.
Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), June 12, 1999, review of Prayers for Rain, p. D19; February 17, 2001, review of Mystic River, p. D13.
Houston Chronicle, March 11, 2001, Martha Liebrum, "Murder Reconnects Boyhood Pals in Lehane Thriller," p. 15.
Kirkus Reviews, May 15, 1999, review of Prayers for Rain, p. 757.
Library Journal, June 15, 1997, p. 98; July, 1998, p. 137; June 15, 1999, review of Prayers for Rain, p. 108; May 1, 2003, Fred M. Gervat, review of Shutter Island, p. 156; October 1, 2003, Stephen L. Hupp, review of Shutter Island audiocassette, p. 134.
Newsweek, February 19, 2001, Malcolm Jones, "Mean Street Makeover," p. 58.
New Yorker, February 19, 2001, review of Mystic River, p. 223.
New York Times, December 11, 1994.
New York Times Book Review, July 25, 1999, review of Prayers for Rain, p. 20; February 18, 2001, Marilyn Stasio, review of Mystic River, p. 25.
Observer (London, England), April 1, 2001, review of Mystic River, p. 16.
People, July 22, 1996, p. 30; August 25, 1997, p. 38; August 10, 1998, p. 43; March 19, 2001, review of Mystic River, p. 45.
Publishers Weekly, October 10, 1994, p. 65; May 27, 1996, p. 67; May 26, 1997, p. 69; May 10, 1999, review of Prayers for Rain, p. 61; June 21, 1999, Louise Jones, "Dennis Lehane: Hard-Boiled in Boston," p. 40; May 5, 2003, review of Shutter Island audiocassette, p. 21.
Washington Post Book World, August 8, 1999, review of Prayers for Rain, p. 3; February 25, 2001, review of Mystic River, p. 4; March 4, 2001, review of Mystic River, p. 9.
Amazon.com,http://www.amazon.com/ (May 19, 2002), interview with Lehane.
Bookreporter.com,http://www.bookreporter.com/ (May 19, 2002), Joe Hartlaub, review of Mystic River.
CNN.com,http://www.cnn.com/ (January 30, 2001), Adam Dunn, "Author Dennis Lehane Plumbs Depths of Human Misunderstanding in Mystic River."
Crescent Blues.com,http://www.crescentblues.com/ (December 6, 2003), "Dennis Lehane and George Pelecanos: Hard-boiled Buddies."
Dennis Lehane Web Site,http://www.dennislehanebooks.com/ (May 19, 2002).
January,http://www.januarymagazine.com/ (May 19, 2002), Linda Richards, interview with Lehane.
Powell's Web Site,http://www.powells.com/authors/ (December 6, 2003), "Dennis Lehane Meets the Brontë Sisters."*