Dennis Lehane Gone Baby Gone Critique Essay

During the course of his search for little Amanda McCready, Patrick found out just how unfit a parent Amanda’s mother, Helene McCready, could be. In the book’s scorcher of a finale Patrick had to decide whether Amanda should be returned to Helene or left with people who actually loved her.

This decision, which also played out so wrenchingly in Ben Affleck’s film version of the book, was painful enough to separate Patrick from Angie, so that they were estranged at the start of Mr. Lehane’s 1999 “Prayers for Rain.” And the McCready case created other collateral damage as well. Mr. Lehane said publicly that he was through with these characters and just couldn’t conjure them anymore. Now he’s changed his mind.

In “Moonlight Mile” he makes the desperate-sounding move of putting Amanda McCready through a second disappearing act. So at 16, the “Gone, Baby, Gone” girl is suddenly gone again. And Patrick is lured into investigating her disappearance by the chance to atone for his earlier decision to return her to Helene’s clutches. He may not have made the wrong choice, and he still defends it, but he inflicted a lot of damage on Amanda and her would-be protectors. “It was one of the more cutting ironies of the Amanda McCready case,” Patrick says in the new book, “that I’d liked the bad guys a hell of a lot more than the good ones.”

Patrick and Angie are by now married. And they have their own young daughter, Gabriella, who is a constant reminder of how much the right family can mean to a little girl. So the shadow of the McCready dilemma is never far from their thoughts. And it takes over their professional lives after Beatrice McCready, the aunt who helped abduct Amanda and whose husband served jail time for this would-be good deed, phones Patrick in the middle of the night to demand help. “You owe me,” Beatrice says.

What can keep “Moonlight Mile” from heading down an overly well-trodden path? Only the conviction with which Mr. Lehane breathes life into these characters. Unlike the usual sequel writer who simply puts old creations through new paces, Mr. Lehane registers a deep affection for the Kenzie-Gennaro team and a passionate involvement in their problems. And he treats each book in this series as an occasion for wondering what kind of world can produce the depravity that each new plotline describes.

One of the first things Patrick needs to do in “Moonlight Mile” is find out what kind of a 16-year-old Amanda turned into. He learns that she was smart and steady, headed for a good college until she disappeared from high school and seemingly abandoned everything she had achieved. Why would a teenage girl be so self-destructive? Inevitably, Patrick must reacquaint himself with Amanda’s mother to answer that question.

“Helene,” he tells the reader. “If it smelled of stupid, Helene just had to be somewhere nearby.” And when Patrick has to talk to Helene again, he winds up telling her, “I’m thinking how I’ve never had the impulse to hit a woman in my life, but you get me in an Ike Turner frame of mind.” Helene’s answer, delivered with the hard snap that makes these books so memorable: “Like I haven’t heard that before.”

But by now there are other bad influences to which Amanda has been exposed, like the spoiled prep-school girls who were her classmates. After chatting up a few of them (and demonstrating Mr. Lehane’s extra-sharp flair for street dialogue), Patrick decides that if his own daughter grows up to resemble these airheads, he will have to shoot himself.

Without spoiling the story of why and how Amanda revanished, it’s possible to reveal that Amanda isn’t anything like her classmates. Or her mother. She grew up to be independent and tough, and she is shockingly well able to hold her own with the two detectives on her trail. She knows how much damage Patrick inflicted on her, and she’s not one to forgive. She’s also so old beyond her years that she has managed to get herself into some very adult difficulties, troubles that would sound wildly contrived if Mr. Lehane weren’t so good at imagining the patois of Moldovian gangsters and thugs. This book’s wild plot sounds far more reasonable moment by moment than it would in synopsis.

“Moonlight Mile,” which borrows the haunting name of a Rolling Stones song, maybe for no better reason than that Mr. Lehane knows a great title when he hears one, has the conventional structure of its genre. So Patrick and Angie follow the bread-crumb trail of clues and suspects, giving Mr. Lehane many occasions to write acid-etched dialogue and show off his fine powers of description. When the narrative leads to the home of a prosperous fitness guru, we see his trophy wife: “She was attractive the way sports bar hostesses and pharmaceutical reps are — hair the color of rum and lots of it, teeth as bright as Bermuda.” The guru himself looks around his fancily renovated house “like a modern-day Alexander with no worlds left to conquer.”

And when Angie lures Patrick to a hotel-room tryst they can’t afford, she promises to make it worth his while. “Sheets so wrinkled they’ll never be ironed out,” Angie suggests. His beguiling comeback — and he always has one: “Let’s not set the bar too high.”

Boston private detectives Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro are hired to find four-year-old Amanda McCready, abducted from her bed on a warm, summer night. They meet her stoned-out, strangely apathetic mother, her loving aunt and uncle, the mother's dangerous, drug-addled friends, and two cops who've found so many abused or dead children they may be too far over the edge to come back. Despite enormous public attention, rabid news coverage, and dogged police work, the investigation repeatedly hits a brick wall. Led into a world of drug dealers, child molesters, and merciless executioners, Patrick and Angie are soon forced to face not only the horrors adults can perpetrate on innocents but also their own conflicted feelings about what is best, and worst, when it comes to raising children. And as the Indian summer fades and the autumn chill deepens, Amanda McCready stays gone, banished so completely that she seems never to have existed.

Then another child disappears. . . . Dennis Lehane takes you into a world of triple crosses, elaborate lies, and shrouded motives, where the villains may be more moral than the victims, the missing should possibly stay missing, and those who go looking for them may not come back alive.

Settle in and turn off the phone. From its haunting opening to its shocking climax, Gone, Baby, Gone is certain to be one of the most thrilling, talked-about suspense novels you read this year.

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