DENNIS LEHANE. Darkness, Take My Hand (1996).

07 Nov

Lehane, in this second book to feature the sleuthing duo Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennarro, has put the Dorchester section of Boston on the map of places that have a presence in myth that no region could ever attain in mere space. In his Dorchester, killer clowns rule the night, cruising Savin Hill Avenue in an ominous-looking white van and laying the groundwork for a vengeful murder spree that will occur twenty years later. DarknessTakeHand.jpg In his Dorchester, the sins of fathers and mothers, born of the vigilante passions that roiled white working-class Boston during the school-busing crisis of the 1970s, linger as a curse upon their progeny.

Through artful storytelling, Lehane makes us want to believe in that Dorchester—and makes us need to believe in his two homegrown heroes, who winningly demonstrate their ability to transcend the violence that marks their neighborhood. He does less well in other respects. An air of Hollywood-inspired banality clings to much of the dialogue and to some of the characterization. The byplay between Kenzie and Gennaro, which swerves from the fraternal to the sexual and back, is cutesy and obvious rather than clever. (One critic shrewdly hears in it an uninspired echo from the TV show Moonlighting.) And the plot, though powerful as a whole, does not work as smoothly as it might; it has a couple of hard-to-ignore holes, and its final sequence goes on too long. But for a novelist, it’s no small thing to transfigure a humdrum patch of earth into an arena of epic adventure. In creating a fit place for Kenzie and others to confront their demons, internal as well as external, Lehane has achieved that feat.


Posted by on November 7, 2018 in American, Noir, Novel


9 responses to “DENNIS LEHANE. Darkness, Take My Hand (1996).

  1. JJ

    November 8, 2018 at 6:51 AM

    This definitely felt to me the weakest of these first 5 Patrick and Angie books, before he took a break from them a wrote a bunch of well-received (but not always good…) standalones. Prayers for Rain, the fifth, did a similar veering of plot and tone, and it’s almost as if both represented stages in his career where the uncertainty in the background — shaping the series here, potentially ending it there — crept through unbidden onto the page.

    • Mike

      November 8, 2018 at 8:22 AM

      Thanks for the comment, JJ! I read this second one and the first one many years ago; I don’t remember the debut work at all. I haven’t read anything else by Lehane, although I’ve greatly enjoyed the film versions of a few of his standalone novels (such as “Mystic River”), as well some of his TV-writing work. In fact, I generally prefer to take in Lehane’s thriller-type storytelling as on-screen entertainment. When I invest in reading a book, I want something—a corkscrew puzzle, for instance—that I can’t easily get from a two-hour movie.

      • JJ

        November 8, 2018 at 11:09 AM

        A Drink Before the War, his debut, was a book I loved — I just fell headfirst for everything he did in that, which might in part explain the disappointment of this one, I suppose. In this series, the third book Gone, Baby, Gone is wonderful — filmed by Ben Affleck, but I’ve not seen it — and Sacred is much more of a “dark crimes” book than any sort of puzzle plot.

        His standalones I’ve found variable; hated Mystic River (never seen the film), really enjoyed Shutter Island up to the “big reveal” (which shows how unused to that sort of puzzle plot Lehane is), and Live By Night was bad enough that I’ve not read anything he’s written since. Maybe I should look him up again, as he’s written a few in recent years that sound a little Harlan Coben-ish, and Lehane’s usually a class act where prose is concerned and so probably does a little more with his characters than Coben typically tries to.

  2. Mike

    November 8, 2018 at 2:26 PM

    JJ, I’m impressed by the range of your reading within the crime genre. I used to be better about reading more widely and reading more-contemporary stuff. Nowadays, I almost always want to read books from the mid-20th century. (I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve never read anything by Coben or even by—gasp—Lee Child.)

    • JJ

      November 10, 2018 at 9:52 PM

      Mike, don’t be too impressed: the overwhelming majority of my Lehane, Child, Crais, Connelly, Coben, and contemporaries was done when I stumnled into the genre in the early 2000s. In recent years I can count the number of these authors’ books I’ve read on the fingers of maybe three hands. Like yourself, I’m much happier mired in earlier times — hell, your mid-20th Century predeliction feels worryingly modern to me now… :)

      • Mike

        November 12, 2018 at 12:29 PM

        It seems, JJ, that the trajectory of your crime-reading life roughly follows my own.

      • JJ

        November 12, 2018 at 10:43 PM

        It’s the best trajectory to undergo: anyone who does it the other way round is not to be trusted…!

  3. Matt Paust

    November 9, 2018 at 12:52 PM

    I’ve read only two or three Kenzie and Gennerro’s, and found them entertaining but not addictive. I liked Mystic River despite its darkness (I tended to avoid dark stuff when I was raising the kids; now I’m finding it more appealing). My favorite Lehane is Shutter Island. The ending didn’t bother, as by then I had completely identified with the protagonist and was duly surprised and satisfied with the denoument, altho I found having identified with a schizophrenic character a tad disturbing.. For the record, puzzle plots tend to annoy me–especially those overdone tangles in the so-called Golden Age mysteries.

    • Mike

      November 9, 2018 at 6:19 PM

      Matt, thanks for dropping by and leaving a comment. (I want to check out your site as well.) As I suggested in a previous comment, I tend to see Lehane as a very fine *movie* writer. I liked the film versions of “Mystic River” and “Shutter Island” quite a lot, but neither movie made me want to read the original book. As for “overdone tangles,” well, I might agree with you and I might not. I like classic puzzle mysteries more than the average reader, but the best ones by far are those that have simple, elegant—yet totally surprising—solutions. Many of them are indeed needlessly complex.


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