Review: Mystic River by Dennis Lehane

A psychological thriller that punches you in the heart. Mystic River by Dennis Lehane (5/5)

Okay I’m skipping a few books that I read first so that I can write about Mystic River. I read Mystic River February 28-March 7, 2019 as part of a readalong hosted by @ilovethispod and @8luebird – it’s not my usual genre, but I had heard enough good things about Dennis Lehane that I wanted to give it a try. I’d also picked up Shutter Island but I know the twist to that one because I’ve seen the movie.

From GoodReads:

When they were children, Sean Devine, Jimmy Marcus, and Dave Boyle were friends. But then a strange car pulled up to their street. One boy got into the car, two did not, and something terrible happened — something that ended their friendship and changed all three boys forever. 

Twenty-five years later, Sean is a homicide detective. Jimmy is an ex-con who owns a corner store. And Dave is trying to hold his marriage together and keep his demons at bay — demons that urge him to do terrible things. When Jimmy’s daughter is found murdered, Sean is assigned to the case. His investigation brings him into conflict with Jimmy, who finds his old criminal impulses tempt him to solve the crime with brutal justice. And then there is Dave, who came home the night Jimmy’s daughter died covered in someone else’s blood. 

A tense and unnerving psychological thriller, Mystic River is also an epic novel of love and loyalty, faith and family, in which people irrevocably marked by the past find themselves on a collision course with the darkest truths of their own hidden selves.

In a technical sense, Lehane is amazing. The word choice, the flow of the language, the specificity of setting without being myopic, and the near poetry of the way he describes things is just incredible work. Even when I didn’t like what I was reading (re: gore, violence, other triggery things) I enjoyed the way it was written. The story unfolds over a very short period of time but so many details and events are documented that it should get boring or feel slow, but most of the time it doesn’t. If anything I wanted more of these deep dives, more of the thoughts of our three narrators as things happened.

The characters are another success of Lehane’s work in this book. The voices of the narrators are all distinct from each other while still maintaining high quality writing. Through their eyes we form not just attachments to them, but to their families, and most especially to Katie (I’ll circle back to her.) They are all strong in their own way, and all pathetic in their own way. I appreciated that the book didn’t wax poetic or hang everything on childhood friendships and get nostalgic over something. It was very clear that what happened to Dave separated them from each other, rather than uniting them. It was more like an ax hanging over their heads rather than something to cling to as a reason for care or loyalty. We see almost everything about Sean, most things about Dave, but I felt like very intentional choices were made to not to tell us about Jimmy. We know Jimmy now – we only see him through his kid eyes for a small amount of page time, and we never get any direct flashbacks to the Jimmy between then and when we first meet him as an adult. Jimmy has always been mysterious, and even when the narration is inside his mind, things are hidden. We know he loves deeply and fiercely, and we know he buried a part of himself away enough to be good on the surface.

The plot is straightforward, and anyone who likes to try and figure out the truth and is also a jaded cynic will figure it out. I had a hunch from the very beginning. I am also an investigator for a living, so maybe that’s why my brain noticed and went back to certain things. Even if you do figure it out, getting there is quite the trip and it makes the confirmation of who killed Katie no less devastating. The resolution of finding and confronting her killer is so damn dark and depressing. There is no feeling of justice, and it’s so brutally well done.

Because if you paid attention, you love Katie. The Katie you seem from her friends, her boyfriend, her dad, and even Dave. She came out the other side of her dad being in jail and losing her mom to cancer as a good, loving person. A daughter, a big sister, a girlfriend, a niece. She was loved and she was easy to love. It makes her murder and the process of finding her killer and trying to find resolution have a strong drive, and it makes the ending hurt in a variety of ways.

Our three main protagonists each get some kind of resolution at the end and like their characterization, the conclusions of their stories in this novel are both strong and pathetic. I have wishes for all of them – I wished that I could speak for them, or be the voice in their heads telling them what they aren’t seeing. The end is dark as fuck and I know that’s kind of Lehane trait. One I think he earns well with his writing.

This novel is detailed and intricate, and for someone who wants a driving plot and an emotional assault – this is definitely your read. Initially, I wasn’t sure how I felt about it and I gave this book four stars, but after writing this review and how I feel a week later – definitely a five star read. Thanks for the book B, I loved it.

Author: Ghosts Inside

I read a lot and want to share all the great things I come across.

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