Dennis Lehane has rapidly established himself as one of the west’s finest modern authors and one of crime fiction’s most prized assets.
Let’s check out those CV highlights… Gone, Baby, Gone and Mystic River showed the imitators that character-rich detective dramas could work on the page and the screen. The Given Day was a James Ellroy-esque period epic that expertly dissected the 1919 Boston police strike while Shutter Island took an exhilirating u-turn into psychological chiller territory. In short, the prospect of a new Lehane thriller makes pupils dilate.
But even after storming through the first chapter, it’s evident that Since We Fell is somewhat of a departure for Lehane. You could, at a stretch, call it a missing persons thriller in that its central character Rachel has something missing.
She’s searching for her in absentia father following the death of her overbearing, cruel mother. But really the missing person is herself. Rachel is a damaged soul and her life will only spiral further out of her control with bouts of panic, depression and fight-or-flight peppering her journey through adulthood. As with Paula Hawkins’ similarly toned The Girl on the Train, the real interest comes from sending vulnerable, damaged characters into halls of mirrors to see how they’ll fend off the maze and their own reflections.
Lehane has a gift for adding depth to characters while dancing around Dashiell Hammett style hard-boiled dialogue but with Since We Fell he’s really going the extra mile, swapping his labyrinthine ensembles for a probing look at one woman’s determination to combat increasingly crippling emotions. We chart her career highs and lows as well as a series of partners in rich detail – to a point where we start asking of the thriller writer “where is this going?”.
Since We Fell does go somewhere (in conventional thriller terms) and it happens all of a sudden during the novel’s mid-section. For some readers, it’ll be a familiar return into the breathless embrace of a crime novelist at the peak of his powers. For me (without spoiling the twists for the sake of a review), the thriller element feels forced and detracts from the sort of character exploration that could well have stood shoulder to shoulder with Richard Yate’s coming-of-age masterpiece The Easter Parade.
Still, Since We Fell is a wonderfully detailed and heart-poundingly paced read. In Rachel, Lehane has crafted a character for the ages and has teased us with a sea change in his writing style. Few authors this established feel like they’re in transition but Lehane genuinely does here. I can’t wait to read what he (or Rachel) does next.
Since We Fell is available now from Little, Brown.