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Book Review

Lehane’s beloved detectives are older, wiser, and still on case

Dennis Lehane brings back “Gone Baby Gone’’ characters. Dennis Lehane brings back “Gone Baby Gone’’ characters. (Diane Lucas Leavengood)
By Clea Simon
Globe Correspondent / December 3, 2010

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Be careful what you wish for; you just might get it. Twelve years ago, Patrick Kenzie and his partner, Angela Gennaro, were hired to find a missing 4-year-old girl. Piecing together the clues, the private detectives discovered that little Amanda McCready had been taken from a wildly unfit mother to be happily resettled with a much more loving and responsible family. But true to his word, Patrick returned the little girl to her mother, and in the ensuing years he’s had many reasons to question his conviction.

That outing, 1998’s “Gone Baby Gone,’’ wasn’t the last Patrick and Angela outing (that would be 1999’s “Prayers for Rain’’). But its edgy depiction of Patrick’s ethical dilemma, and the conflicts it highlighted between law and justice, stayed with fans who have clamored for the return of the team as Lehane turned his talents to more ambitious, but arguably less satisfying fiction.

Now Patrick and Angie are back, but they’re not the same street-tough pair who once ruled Boston’s meaner streets. The past 12 years have brought changes. Patrick now is trying for a corporate PI job and complains about the aches and pains of his aging body. He and Angie, his beautiful on-again, off-again lover, have married and have a daughter, and his former partner has left the field to be a mom and return to school.

But that one old case still hangs between them, and the wonderful, exasperating presence of 4-year-old Gabriela serves as a constant reminder of the choice Patrick made all those years ago. Angie, even before becoming a mother, had disagreed with that decision, and it comes up again as the two reevaluate their lives in the face of parenthood and the recession. And so when Patrick is told that Amanda, now a self-sufficient 16, has gone missing again, it seems like a chance to remake old decisions or at least make a final judgment on just how much damage has been done.

This is the setup of “Moonlight Mile’’ and it is intriguing — a perfect excuse to restore this pair to loyal fans, who can’t wait to see Patrick and Angie once again kick butt to get to the bottom of a case amid the colorful backdrop of Boston’s seamier side. But this is not the same old Patrick and Angie, which means, for some, “Moonlight Mile’’ may disappoint. While Patrick has always had a contemplative side, this time out he’s constantly questioning himself. And Angie, at least at first, is hampered by her new obligations. Patrick’s voice is the same, and when push comes to shove, the old skills emerge. But the majority of this book is about older, and more hesitant characters.

“I could feel both of us trapped inside ourselves,’’ Patrick narrates, “not sure what to do with today’s violence. There was a time we would have been experts at it. . . . Those days were long gone, though, and today’s return to easy bloodshed drove us into our protective shells.’’

This new couple is extremely believable, caught between practical realities and the people they want to be. But their new life is slower paced, a little more pragmatic. And it doesn’t help that parts of the plot strain credibility. Amanda, in particular, is depicted as so brilliant that her skills, and her ability to manipulate those around her, serve as a kind of catchall solution. At least by the end, Patrick knows there’s no use in worrying about her anymore. He and Angie have had another chance to set things right, and readers have been given the opportunity to catch up with the couple as they truly should be today.

Clea Simon, the author of six mysteries, most recently “Grey Matters,’’ can be reached at cleas@earthlink.net.

MOONLIGHT MILE By Dennis Lehane

William Morrow, 324 pp., $26.99