Andy Bockelman: ‘Moonlight Mile’ lesser but still worthy entry in mystery series

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Andy Bockelman is a member of the Denver Film Critics Society, and his movie reviews appear in Explore Steamboat and the Craig Daily Press.

Book at a glance

“Moonlight Mile,” by Dennis Lehane

2.5 out of 4 stars

336 pages

Published by William Morrow

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Dennis Lehane

When a writer takes a decade-long break from his most famous characters, you can bet that the new results will be a little different. But, as long as the scribe in question still brings the same skills to the table, there’s not much reason to complain.

Such is the outcome of Dennis Lehane’s “Moonlight Mile.”

Patrick Kenzie was once a prominent Boston private eye, but his current situation is less satisfying. Working part-time surveillance for a high-profile security firm and getting strung along with the promise of permanent work, worrying about his family is more of a priority than the thrill of a good case.

However, when Beatrice McCready walks back into his life, all the worst memories of his past career come flooding back. Looking for reparations from Patrick’s most unsettling case, Beatrice wants him to find someone.

Again.

After rescuing Beatrice’s niece, Amanda, 12 years ago only to return her to a mother who barely noticed her existence, Patrick is tasked once again with finding the girl, who’s now 16 and has mysteriously vanished despite a stellar academic future.

And, though getting back in the fray is the last thing Patrick wants, his conscience won’t let him forget that he needs to right the situation he helped make worse.

Though a good deal older now, Kenzie doesn’t seem the least bit different as a Boston native who’s relocated from his office in a church bell tower and his inner-city apartment to a suburban situation.

With him, as always, is former partner and current spouse, Angie Gennaro, reminding him that they’ve put the life of hard-nose investigating behind them. She still can’t stay away as long as he remains interested, but she’s not willing to put their 4-year-old daughter, Gabriella, at risk.

For the dirty work, there’s always Patrick’s best friend and stand-in junkyard dog, Bubba Rogowski, a gun-runner oblivious to pain and common sense, making him the perfect muscleman.

As for the girl at the center of the hubbub, Amanda McCready has grown up harder than most.

Raising herself and seeing to her education without any help from her mother Helene — who by now has seemingly cleaned up her act but is still the same neglectful mother — Amanda has gotten into the seedy business of identity theft and has some pretty nasty people after her, to say the least.

There are too many bizarre, dead end subplots in this Kenzie-Gennaro mystery, including plot points involving Amanda’s look-alike gal pal, Sophie, and a priceless Russian crucifix that screams red herring.

The quality of crime underworld people we’re dealing with here is much less satisfying compared to the antagonists of Lehane’s “Darkness, Take My Hand,” “Prayers for Rain” and of course, “Gone, Baby, Gone,” the original Amanda McCready story, which saw the peak of Patrick Kenzie’s adventures.

With the author focusing on other works more recently, including “Mystic River,” the noirish “Shutter Island” and the historical fiction “The Given Day,” it’s understandable that coming back to the series that established him in the 1990s would be a little less impressive.

Lehane writes at the same level, with excellent passages detailing the people and places of Boston and surrounding areas, all the while giving his hero the same observant wit that he’s always had.

Of course, now Patrick is deriding “American Idol,” the overuse of cell phones and the economic status of people in his community, but you’ve got to roll with the changes.

The sixth in the Kenzie-Genarro series, “Moonlight Mile” doesn’t have the same level of chills and thrills of Lehane’s earlier books, but it’s still a worthy attempt, even if it feels like he’s working with a net.

Although it ends rather conclusively, here’s hoping the author will make an attempt at lucky number seven.

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