Lehane, Dennis 1965–
Lehane, Dennis 1965–
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.
Home—Boston, MA. Agent—Ann Rittenberg, Ann Rittenberg Literary Agency, 1201 Broadway, Ste. 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, 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 (also see below), Harcourt (Orlando, FL), 1994.
Darkness, Take My Hand (also see below), 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.
A Drink before the War [and] Darkness, Take My Hand (omnibus), Avon (New York, NY), 2007.
Coronado: Stories (contains Coronado, an adaptation of his story "Until Gwen," a two-act play, produced in New York, NY, 2005), Morrow (New York, NY), 2006.
Also author of short stories, including "Until Gwen," and of screenplay Nightfall. 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 by Warner Brothers in 2003. Lehane's short story "Until Gwen" was adapted for film in 2007. Gone, Baby, Gone was adapted for film, also in 2007.
Dennis Lehane has won praise for his mystery novels, which provide suspenseful entertainment yet also show insight into the human condition. He first won praise and a widespread audience for his series featuring the characters Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro, two young, cynical detectives based in Boston, where they grew up together. Kenzie and Gennaro are featured in A Drink before the War, Darkness, Take My Hand, Sacred, Run, Baby, Run, and Prayers for Rain. With the 2001 publication of Mystic River, which concerns the repercussions of a crime but is not a standard crime novel, Lehane was recognized as a powerful author outside of any genre definitions.
"There was never any doubt in Dennis Lehane's mind that he was going to be a writer," stated January editor Linda Richards following her interview with the author. "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," 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 stories but did not submit them "because my stories didn't meet my high standards," he said 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 was published. In fact, he bucked the stereotype of the typical starving artist: "My publishing career is such a fluke. I got to it faster than I expected. I have no publishing horror stories," he told Jones.
Lehane garnered several admiring reviews for his debut, A Drink before the War. 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 writer. Numerous other critics remarked that Lehane's hard-edged style, ambiguous characters, and unresolved endings combine to create some of the best in modern mystery writing.
The debut of Gennaro and Kenzie in A Drink before the War showed "plenty of promise," according to Emily Melton in Booklist. New York Times Book Review critic Marilyn Stasio felt that the novel is marred by "a lot of cornball clichés and puerile private-eye humor," but she 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."
Darkness, Take My Hand was the next novel featuring Gennaro and Kenzie, and it drew rave reviews from numerous critics. In this story, the detectives search for a brutal rapist and killer with connections to their own past. Melton described it in Booklist as "an explosive story that is at once gut-wrenchingly violent and achingly melancholy…. In a series of heart-stopping climaxes that grow ever more terrifying and bloody, Gennaro and Kenzie lose nearly everything. 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. A tour de force from a truly gifted writer." People contributor 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."
Sacred is "another gritty and surpassingly entertaining mystery" that proves Lehane "belongs in the big leagues," in the opinion of a Publishers Weekly reviewer. The writer pointed out Patrick'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 her People review, calling the book a "dark maelstrom of a mystery." She admitted that, in her opinion, the book lacks the "terrible beauty" of Darkness Take My Hand, but concluded that it "still crackles with enough suspense to make for many a midsummer night's screams."
The detectives 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 it as "a tense, edge-of-your-seat story about a world that is astoundingly cruel and unbearably violent to its most innocent members." Lambert, in another People assessment, called Gone, Baby, Gone a "chilling, masterfully plotted tale into that dark place where men try to play God and everyone gets hurt."
The next book in the series, Prayers for Rain, begins as Gennaro and Kenzie, having gone through a romance and a breakup, now go their separate ways. Kenzie works in Dorchester, while Gennaro has signed on for security work at a high-tech firm. However, Gennaro is tempted away from the corporate life to help her former colleague solve the mystery of a former client who has apparently leaped to her death off the Customs House Tower. Reviewing the work for Booklist, Wes Lukowsky commented that "Lehane has worked his way into the top echelon of crime writers."
Following five Kenzie/Gennaro stories, Lehane decided 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. According to Carlson, absent the trappings of the detective tale, the novel "brings the neighbourhood into bleaker focus."
Reviewing Mystic River in USA Today, Carol Memmott wrote: "In every generation, a handful of writers of detective fiction set the pace for the rest…. [Few] can match [Lehane's] capacity for capturing human emotion and our capability to do evil…. His ability to create crystal-clear portraits of humanity and then place them in the darker side of life is a writer's true gift." The story opens in 1975 when two eleven-year-old boys witness a third boy, their friend, bullied into a car and driven off by two strange men. Twenty-five years later, the lives of the three friends cross paths again: Sean is a burned-out cop; Jimmy is an ex-con whose teenage daughter is murdered; and Dave, who suffered abuse at the hands of his abductors, "makes readers aware that he is a ticking time bomb," according to Dunn. Sean is assigned to investigate the teen's murder; the prime suspect is Dave. The author, said Stasio in a New York Times Book Review appraisal, "spares nothing in his wrenching descriptions of how a crime in the neighborhood kills the neighborhood, taking it down house by house, family by family." Newsweek critic 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 January online interview, Richards commented on 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 ear. I could always write dialog."
The plot of Lehane's novel Shutter Island was described by Joanne Wilkinson in Booklist as a "blistering page turner." The suspenseful story revolves around the escape of an inmate from a federal institution for the criminally insane on Shutter Island, a small, isolated island in the outer part of Boston Harbor. Two U.S. marshalls arrive to investigate, and become caught up in a psychological thriller that Lehane also conceived of as an homage to gothic novels, pulp fiction, and B-movies. As Wilkinson commented: "A master of the adroit psychological detail, Lehane makes the horrors of the mean streets pale in comparison to the workings of the human mind."
In Coronado: Stories, Lehane collects some of his short stories. The title piece is a two-act stage adaptation of the story "Until Gwen," which is also included in the book. The story shows a father picking up his son, who has been jailed for four years. The father's car is stolen, and he has a prostitute in the back seat. His greatest concern is to get his son to tell him where to find some hidden loot; the younger man just wants his father to take him to visit Gwen, his girlfriend. Gillian Flynn, reviewing the book for Entertainment Weekly, compared the two characters to "two feral dogs tied together." Other stories concern a drunken, disruptive rampage by some Texas high school football players, and a pair of Vietnam veterans who become fatefully involved with a woman whose husband was able to avoid service in the war thanks to his family's wealth. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly praised the collection for revealing "powerfully envisioned lives, recounted unflinchingly."
Of his method of writing, Lehane once commented: "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."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Book, March, 2001, Adam Dunn, "A Good Place to Die," p. 52.
Booklist, November 15, 1994, Emily Melton, review of A Drink before the War, p. 582; July, 1996, Emily Melton, review of Darkness, Take My Hand, p. 1809; April 15, 1999, Wes Lukowsky, review of Prayers for Rain, p. 1481; May 1, 2001, Bill Ott, review of Mystic River, p. 1599; April 1, 2003, Joanne Wilson, review of Shutter Island, p. 1355; August 1, 2006, review of "Coronado: Stories," p. 51.
BookPage, February, 2001, review of Mystic River, p. 10.
Boston Herald, March 4, 2001, review of Mystic River, p. 65.
Daily Telegraph (London, England), May 26, 2001, Michael Carlson, review of Mystic River.
Daily Variety, April 20, 2006, Ian Mohr, review of Coronodo, p. 3.
Entertainment Weekly, February 16, 2001, review of Mystic River, p. 90; August 11, 2006, Gillian Flynn, review of Coronado, p. 71.
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.
Hollywood Reporter, February 17, 2006, Borys Kit, "Monaghan, Affleck Good as ‘Gone,’" p. 6; March 1, 2006, Borys Kit, "Olson Adapts Lehane's ‘Gwen,’" p. 4.
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; June 15, 2006, review of Coronado, p. 595.
Library Journal, June 15, 1997, Ahmad Wright, review of Sacred, p. 98; July, 1998, Karen Anderson, review of Gone, Baby, Gone, p. 137; June 15, 1999, Wilda Williams, review of Prayers for Rain, p. 108; August 1, 2006, review of Coronado, p. 79.
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 Book Review, December 11, 1994, Marilyn Stasio, review of A Drink before the War, p. 38; July 25, 1999, Marilyn Stasio, 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, Pam Lambert, review of Darkness, Take My Hand, p. 30; August 25, 1997, Pam Lambert, review of Sacred, p. 38; August 10, 1998, Pam Lambert, review of Gone, Baby, Gone, p. 43; March 19, 2001, Pam Lambert, review of Mystic River, p. 45.
Publishers Weekly, October 10, 1994, review of A Drink before the War, p. 65; May 27, 1996, review of Darkness, Take My Hand, p. 67; May 26, 1997, review of Sacred, 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; June 19, 2006, review of Coronado, p. 37.
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.
Bookreporter,http://www.bookreporter.com/ (March 1, 2001), interview with Lehane; (July 1, 2007), Joe Hartlaub, review of Mystic River.
CNN,http://www.cnn.com/ (January 30, 2001), Adam Dunn, "Author Dennis Lehane Plumbs Depths of Human Misunderstanding in Mystic River."
Dennis Lehane Web site,http://www.dennislehanebooks.com (July 1, 2007).
Harriet Klausner's Home Page,http://harrietklausner.wwwi.com/ (July 1, 2007), Harriet Klausner, review of Coronado.
January Online,http://www.januarymagazine.com/ (May 19, 2002), Linda Richards, interview with Lehane.
USA Today Online,http://www.usatoday.com/ (September 24, 2003), Carol Memmott, review of Mystic River.