‘Hyper-focused’ bestselling author revisits popular character from ‘Gone Baby Gone’


Patrick Kenzie isn’t the toughest or bravest private detective — he once admitted that “circus dwarfs could kick my ass.”

Kenzie — the fictional creation of writer Dennis Lehane — never served in the U.S. Special Forces or learned martial arts. But the hard-boiled private eye does have one defining characteristic — he never backs down.

“If you give your word, the inability to break your word is to me a heroic quality, even if it means it’s going to bring pain in other aspects of your life,” said Lehane. “I’d like to think there were more people in the world whose word was their bond.”

Lehane, the author of nine novels including “Gone Baby Gone,” “Mystic River” and “Shutter Island,” the latter three of which were made into feature films, spoke Thursday, April 19, to the Rancho Santa Fe Literary Society at the Grand Del Mar resort in Carmel Valley. Before his talk, he granted an interview to this newspaper in the library off the resort’s lobby.

Lehane splits his time between Boston and Florida’s Gulf Coast. He and his wife, Angie, have two daughters, a 3-year-old and an infant born in March. Lehane — like his character, Kenzie — was born in Dorchester, a working class section of Boston.

As he struggled to become a full-time writer, Lehane worked a series of jobs ranging from counselor for mentally handicapped and abused children, to waiting on tables, driving limos, clerking in a bookstore and loading tractor-trailers, according to his bio.

Lehane’s short hair was specked with gray, and several days’ growth of beard stubbled his cheeks. He wore a sport coat over a dark T-shirt, and his speech bore the accent of his Boston roots.

His latest novel, “Moonlight Mile,” is a sequel of sorts to “Gone Baby Gone,” in which Kenzie and his wife, private detective Angie Gennaro, search for a missing 4-year-old girl. They find her, but agonize over whether to return her to her drug-addict mother.

In “Moonlight Mile,” Kenzie and Gennaro are asked to once again find the same girl, now a teenager, who has gone missing for the second time. In the process, they run up against Russian mobsters, petty crooks and gunfire.

At one point, Gennaro tells her husband to drop the case because of the danger it poses to their own 4-year-old daughter.

He refuses, telling her, “You know who I am. You knew the minute you convinced me to do what Beatrice (the missing girl’s aunt) asked that I would never stop until I found Amanda again. And now you tell me it’s over? Well, it’s not. Not until I find her.”

“Moonlight Mile” is Lehane’s sixth booth featuring Kenzie and Gennaro. After “Gone Baby Gone,” Lehane said Patrick Kenzie “stopped talking to me for 11 years.” When Kenzie began “chatting” with him a few years back, Lehane said, he realized the new novel would allow him to write about the financial meltdown that began in 2008, and the difficult times faces by working Americans.

Along with his novels, Lehane has written for the television show, “The Wire.” He said that when he decided to become a writer, he felt he could not allow himself to fail, because he would not be able to face his friends and family.

“I was so hyper-focused. I knew there was no way back. If I missed, I was gonna land with one hell of a thud,” he said.

In many of Lehane’s books, characters face what he called an “irreconcilable dilemma.”

“That’s where I find the dramatic heat,” he said.

He equates such difficult decisions to being a parent who must discipline a young child. Even though the lesson may be important for the child to learn, he said, “You feel like the worst monster.”

Still, he said, life is full of such unpleasant decisions. “Welcome to adulthood,” he said.

While he loves to write, he can’t stand blogging or social media, because he wants the focus to on his work, not on himself.

“I like to hide behind my stories,” he said.

Lehane’s next novel, “Live By Night,” the tale of a young gangster during Prohibition, is due out in October.

For more on Lehane, visit www.dennislehanebooks.com.

Editor’s Note: Award-winning writer Dennis Lehane was the guest speaker at the April 19 luncheon of the Rancho Santa Fe Literary Society at The Grand Del Mar. He is the author of nine novels, including “Mystic River,” “Gone Baby Gone” and “Shutter Island.” The annual six-event luncheon series is sponsored by Northern Trust, the RSF Literary Society, the RSF Community Center and this newspaper. The next luncheon on Friday, May 18, will feature writer Simon Sebag Montefiore and his book “Jerusalem.”

By Joe Tash