Mystic River

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Born in Dorchester, Massachusetts, in 1965, and currently living in the Boston area with his family, Dennis Lehane is very familiar with Boston and the surrounding communities. He has exploited this personal knowledge of the Boston area to give authenticity to his mystery novels which are set in and around Boston. His first novel, A Drink Before War (1994), won the Shamus Award for Best First Novel. Each of his subsequent mysteries, including Darkness, Take My Hand (1996), Sacred (1997), Gone, Baby, Gone (1998), and Prayers for Rain (1999), were eagerly awaited. For Mystic River, Lehane decided not to use the detective team of Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro as the central characters of his novel. In the previous novels, Lehane had employed the character of detective Kenzie as the first-person narrator. Lehane shifts to a third-person perspective in Mystic River.

The novel begins in 1975 with three eleven-year-old friends (Dave Boyle, Jimmy Marcus, and Sean Devine) being invited by two men in a passing car to take a ride. Dave Boyle is the only child willing to climb into the car. Boyle would not be seen again for four days. Shrouded in mystery, Boyle remains silent about what really happened to him. Thought to have been molested, he struggles to overcome the trauma inflicted on him. With this past incident hovering over the novel, Lehane moves ahead twenty-five years. Sean Devine is now a Boston homicide detective with a personal life that is seemingly falling apart. Jimmy Marcus is a store owner who spent some time in prison and has some links to organized crime. Dave Boyle is married, but remains troubled by the past. Marcus’s nineteen-year-old daughter Katie is brutally murdered and Devine is assigned to investigate. This murder brings the three childhood friends back into contact with one another.

Mystic River is a first-rate thriller that does far more than merely solve a puzzle. Lehane masterfully weaves the many dark and complex threads that run through the novel. He also vividly paints the psychological and emotional turmoil that each of the three primary characters must endure.