Customer Reviews: Mystic River
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on August 26, 2002
There are authors and then there are GREAT authors. MYSTIC RIVER just proves that Dennis Lehane has risen to the "great author" category. I'm familiar with Lehane's work having already read four books in his Patrick and Angie series. But nothing, and I mean nothing, prepared me for the greatness of MYSTIC RIVER.
Everything in this book is real -- so real that you actually feel like you're living in the "Flats" even though you've never set foot anywhere near that part of the United States. Perhaps growing up in Brooklyn enabled me to relate to the people living on the so-called "opposite side of the tracks" because I was friends with many of them. Every city has this section. Those who live in it want to get out and those who live outside of it would like, in some small way, to be a part of it. It's a place where the residents look out for their own, sometimes having to take justice into their own hands to see that it is properly served.
We meet the three main characters, Sean Devine, Jimmy Marcus and Dave Boyle, when they are young boys playing together in the streets. When we meet them again, they are grown men -- one a homicide detective, one an ex-con who has lived the straight life for fifteen years and one a husband and father plagued by demons.
Lehane explores the "what if" scenario by reminding us that "if" it had rained in Dallas on that fateful day, Kennedy would not have been in a convertible. The big "what if" in this book centers around an occurrence that happened when the boys were not yet twelve years old and one of them was taken away in a car by pedophiles posing as cops. The big "what if" was how life would have been for the other two had they also gotten into the car. The bigger "what if", however, is how different this story might have been if NONE of them had gotten into the car. Because the boy who left in the car that day is not the same boy who returns four days later having escaped from his captors. As a result of this incident, all three boys will carry around the demons of that day into manhood until the tragic death of one of their daughters will bring the three of them face-to-face again.
I'm going to go out on a limb and state that this is one of the finest books I've ever read. While there's a mystery going on, and it certainly is a page-turner, it is so much more. It is a journey into the psyches of all the characters so neatly drawn out by Lehane and so knowingly admired by the reader. You can understand each and every movement; each and every motivation. While you might not always agree with their choices, you can see that they are real and not something contrived by the author.
I just can't imagine anyone not liking this book and, while I long for another Patrick and Angie episode, I am content to read whatever this author writes. As long as he keeps writing, I'll keep reading.
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on November 24, 2001
Reading is my passion. I have books piled up all over my room just waiting to be read. Although I enjoy most books, I read so many of them that often, by the time I'm halfway into a new one, I have already forgotten most of what I read in the previous book. But there are a handfull of books that made such an impression on me, that their stories stay with me long after I've finished them. Some, I doubt, I will ever forget. Dennis Lehane's "Mystic River" is one of those. I had only read one other Lehane book - "Praying for Rain" - which was a good crime thriller. Mystic River, however, is entirely different. It does involve a murder, but it is so much more than a crime thriller. It is a psychological masterpiece. The main characters, Dave Boyle, Jimmy Marcus, and Sean Devine, grow up as childhood friends. One day Dave suddenly disappears in a car with two men. He returns a changed and damaged child, but what happened while he was gone remains his secret. The book moves ahead twenty-five years. All three have now grown up, having taken completely different paths in life. When Jimmy Marcus' daugher is murdered, the story takes off as Sean, now a homicide detective, takes on the case. But the meat of the story involves the personal demons that haunt all three men, and the effects those demons have on their marriages, families and their lives. This is not a classic whodunit. Lehane does not throw out little tidbits to throw the reader off from guessing who killed Katie, the murdered girl. In fact, so wrapped up in the lives of the three men, their wives and families, that we almost don't care who the murderer really is. There is a lot of darkness in this book as Lehane deftly developes these tragic characters. But the book is not without humor - Lehane's writing is full of dry, acerbic humor. I found myself drawn to every character in the book - as flawed and damaged as they were. No matter what you think has happened, you want to reach out to them, especially Dave, whose live was forever changed that fateful day that he was taken away. This book will appeal to a large audience - for those who love a good mystery, and those who like their books deep, probing the characters' psyches. As I said, this book is still with me, and I suspect it always will be. Do yourself and favor and don't miss this wonderful, deeply moving book. It will make you think about your own life, and how "but for the grace of God go we" makes us realize how fragile our sense of security in our own lives really is. Read it and be moved!
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on January 30, 2001
Dennis Lehane has done it again! I started to read this book on a U.S. to Canada flight, and could scarce tear my nose out of it to clear customs and pick up my bags. Thank heavens we arrived late evening so I could head for bed to finish one of the most exciting, delightful and satisfying reads I've ever enjoyed. I read several books a week and I can't remember when I've been so transported and enthraled.
Now, in case you haven't guessed I'm a big fan of Lehane. Since his first book, Shamus Award winner, A Drink Before The War to last year's Prayers For Rain I love everything he's written and he just keeps getting better and better. Mystic River is different than his previous books in that it is not part of his Boston P.I. Patrick Kenzie series. But don't worry. The magic that makes Dennis Lehane such a powerful writer is all here in Mystic River and it is here in abundance. Lehane gets inside the characters' minds and with masterful twists and turns persents a psychological thriller that is second to none.
This alone would qualify Mystic River as a must read. But, as always, Lehane presents, like a Shakesperian play, a story that can be enjoyed on many levels, and like the best masters of the English language he does so in prose of seemingly effortless beauty. Just reading a Lehane paragraph is a delicious, sensious experience! And yet language and image never get in the way of the characters and the story. Above all, Lehane is a story teller.
Mystic River begins in Lehane's familiar back yard of Boston where we meet three children. Friends whose childhood will mark them forever. They will meet again and even knowing what we know, we don't know how deep the darkness runs. As the dust jacket says, this is an epic novel of love and loyalty, faith and family. To tell you more would tip the master's hand.
I can tell you one more thing, however. Hit the Add To My Cart button and buy this book now. I expect my email box will soon be full of letters from grateful strangers thanking me for alerting them to this exceptional novel. Matter of fact, I suggest you buy two. One to read and re-read. The other to put away carefully wrapped as a prized first edition. Mystic River is that good.
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In transparent prose that carries this page-turner from first line to last, Dennis Lehane spins a mesmerizing story about three childhood friends who grow apart because of changing economics and an incident that occurred in 1975. When a car stops as the eleven year olds brawl in the street, two men get out to break up the fight. Because of a single lie, one boy gets into the car, leaving the other two free and safe on the street. The abduction leaves scars on all three boys, and they carry their separate wounds with them into adulthood. When Jimmy's beloved teenage daughter Katie is found brutally murdered, they are unexpectedly reunited. As with all good murder mysteries, nothing is simple, and every act is suspect.
Once I started reading this novel, I didn't want to put it down. The plot has terrific momentum, and the writing is tightly wound. The most refreshing element in this book is Lehane's characterizations which mark even the most admirable characters with lapses of ethics and the most despicable with redeeming traits. The complexities allow for shifting reader loyalties, thereby giving Lehane a greater range in navigating in a less-than-straight path to the truth. Lehane's theme of karma - of one act leading to another and yet another until a misdeed is repaid - is skillfully developed and provides a strong connection to seemingly unrelated events, thus making sense out of the senseless. What these boys-turned-men are capable of, and what they deserve, becomes the force behind the plot.
MYSTIC RIVER is a well-written, thoughtfully evoked murder mystery that is grounded in moral ambiguities. The complexities of character and issues give a heft to this novel despite its genre's traditional emphasis of plot over everything else. Lehane's skilled but undemanding style makes this novel great weekend or vacation reading. Don't start it at bedtime unless you want to be reading late into the night.
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on February 11, 2001
0230 hrs Monday 12 Feb 2001
Mystic River by Dennis Lehane is not due out in the UK until March 7th, but on Thursday I was at Manchester Airport collecting some guy's for a Conference. I was early so I went for a browse around WH Smiths, and shrieked when I saw the trade paperback of it inside.
After a difficult week, I read the book in two sittings, Saturday afternoon, and Sunday night.
I am sitting writing this review at 0230 hrs, knowing that I have to work tomorrow, but still needing to put some words down, about the searing reading experience that is `Mystic River'.
It is one the finest pieces of fiction I have read in absolutely years, a dark tale of crime, family, love, loss and revenge in the Irish Blue Collar Boston. Complex and densely plotted, this is no ordinary crime thriller, but far more, and Lehane's insights into the human condition and characterization truly remarkable.
I can not reveal the plot, as it was such a joy to watch it unravel like a Venomous Cobra, hypnotizing, whispering, and finally resolving the tale, as only Lehane can.
It is one of the most moving books I have read, and despite it's darkness, it has a warmth and appreciation about the flaws in the human condition, and how we live with our demons and our pasts, and how everything we do is somehow connected, and yet detached from a distance, but up close and personal, these strands are as cold and strong as steel, but from the hill, they are invisible to an outsider.
It is February, and I have a bittersweet feeling. Joy at having been deeply involved in the thoughts and workings of Dennis Lehane's world, but sad it has finished, and that in the start of a year, I have read one of the most remarkable books, and one that is still bouncing in my mind, and will for a long time to come.
I urge you to seek this book out, and learn the thoughts and demons that plague us all.
A wonderful book, and my highlight of this year, and a stark and welcome departure that shows that Lehane's literary talent is something for me to watch, as I grow old, like the river that this tale is about.
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on January 27, 2001
In the Boston area, Jimmy Marcus, Dave Boyle, and Sean Devine are best friends, playing together like preadolescents do everywhere. Their friendship and perhaps childhood ends when eleven-year old Dave enters the car of two strangers claiming to be cops, who sexually molest him. When he escapes and finally returns home he is not the same carefree child.

Twenty-five years later, homicide detective Devine investigates the murder of Marcus' nineteen-year-old daughter. His prime suspect is Boyle, whose own wife believes he is more monster than human being. Marcus, an ex-con, conducts his own inquiries because the grieving father plans to provide his own brand of justice to the culprit. These three former friends appear heading towards a bloody deadly collision.

Dennis Lehane, known for his Kenzie-Gennero series, has written his best novel to date. MYSTIC RIVER contains a who-done-it, but that is a subplot of the theme that centers on the impact on adults of their broken childhood relationships. This psychological suspense tale works because the three key players and several support members like Boyle's wife appear genuine and consistent so that their actions feel right for them. Though his Kenzie- Gennero series is very good, readers will demand Mr. Lehane take further sabbaticals from it so that he can concentrate on more stand alone novels like this excellent book.

Harriet Klausner
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on October 2, 2003
The writing in this book is so tight. There are no unnecessary descriptions, extra characters, or false-sounding dialogue. The dialogue is truly Lehane's strong suit. Sometimes I just stopped reading and thought, wow, this guy knows how people talk. Most writers know in their heads how people talk, but as an amateur story writer, I know how difficult it is to make dialogue sound realistic on paper. These characters ceased being just characters because they seemed so completely believable and real. That was largely due to the excellent dialogue. To those reviewers who said that there was too much profanity in this book, I have to ask: where do you live? In Mr. Rogers' neighborhood? That is how people talk, especially cops and people who live in working-class neighborhoods. An absence of profanity would have been glaringly obvious and made all the characters seem unrealistic.
The facts of this novel have been summarized by other readers, and I will not repeat the summary here. I would like to comment on the ending, without revealing anything. I did not realize the identity of Katie's murderer until right before Lehane revealed it. This was a stroke of genius, since as I have said, there is not a superfluous character in this novel. The murderer is right there in front of you all along, and his or her identity makes perfect sense once it is revealed. Lehane doesn't trick his audience, there are no scams or false clues; sometimes the most obvious culprit is right there in front of you.
I also found the epilogue to be disturbing and ambiguous. Jimmy's character in the epilogue and at the end seems to be so different from what it has been throughout the rest of the book. But when you look at some of the earlier observations about his character, you realize that Lehane played fair and that the ending is not a stretch. Again, a masterpiece.
As many reviewers have noted, this novel is not neatly pigeonholed into the "mystery" category. It is instead a full-bodied novel addressing many themes: people's ability to change; destiny and fate; and class warfare. There are no easy answers, but that is just one more way in which this novel is realistic: in real life, there never are. I can't wait to see this movie.
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on November 9, 2003
Although not a complete Lehane fan, based on some of his other novels, I decided to give Mystic River a read before seeing the movie. I was not disappointed.
This was powerhouse writing at its best. It's hard to call this simply a good mystery novel when it is so much more. It contains a complex, penetrating and melancholy plot that delves into some of the moral issues of our day. It reaches deep into the blackest of hearts and searches out the haunting results of childhood innocence lost. This book isn't just about child molestation, thugs, crime, mystery, and petty criminals. It's about evil and innocence, friendship and betrayal, love and guilt. It's about how our childhood experiences mold us into the adults we are, regardless of how hard we might try to fight it.
This is a gripping tale and I found myself constantly going back and re-reading several passages to ensure that I fully understood all the plot twists and turns. Truly it is disturbing and there is ugliness in it, because there is ulgliness in human nature--and that may put off some readers. However, Mystic River represents a book that is well-written and intelligently plotted with good dialgoue. I would recommend it to anyone who likes crime or mystery novels.
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on January 6, 2002
After reading about a third of this novel, I had this thought: If Richard Yates had written about crime, this is the book he would have written. Those who know and love the works of Yates will understand that this is one hell of a compliment to pay to a genre author whose previous books are a series featuring the same detectives, a la Chandler, McDonald, Parker, Cornwell, etc., etc.
The compliment is well deserved. Lehane *knows* his characters, and that's what this novel is -- a character-driven story that also just happens to have phenomenal plotting. Mystic River is a family story, a crime story, a whodunit all rolled into one. It's dark as hell and darkly funny (Yates), violent in the right places (Pete Dexter, especially "Brotherly Love" not so much in language but in atmosphere), and in many cases, it's more of an Elmore Leonard-type of a story than a straight mystery, i.e., we sorta know what's gonna to happen, but it's incredibly compelling because we know these people. We care about them. This book's got a big heart.
And that's the biggest difference between Lehane and everybody else. Leonard is like Lehane Light emotionally, his works just don't resonate like this. You care about his characters, but you never get *this* involved, where you want to jump into the book to strangle one guy, slap another one awake, etc. Michael Connelly's stuff is close, but it's too much police procedural for my taste. Mystic River is the perfect blend.
I haven't read any other Lehane, but that's going to change, and change real soon.
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on February 27, 2001
I have never read any of the other novels of Dennis Lehane so I have no comparison of this book to his regular series. Mystic River is an exciting read with an aura of violence on every page, usually held firmly in check. It is fascinating how this one traumatic incidence (one of the three boys being abducted) that lead off the novel reverberates throughout the story but it is equally interesting how other incidents from each of the grown men's past circle around them. Everyone seems to pay for the crimes they did or the crimes that were done to them in this dance through the rougher areas of Boston. The actual mystery should be fairly straight forward to solve early enough in the book for most readers and it does rely on many coincidences (this must be a insulated and isolated area of town) but the true pleasure of the novel is in watching these finely drawn characters deal with the repercussions of the events. This book will lead me to further Dennis Lehane novels.
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