Dave, Sean and Jimmy are childhood friends. But their friendship, and for Dave his childhood, ends when Dave is abducted from the street outside Sean’s house by two pedophiles posing as cops. 25 years later Dave and Jimmy are still living in the same neighbourhood, Dave in a dead end job, Jimmy running a local store. When Jimmy’s daughter, Katie, is murdered Sean, now a homicide cop with the state police, is assigned to the investigation.
Many of Lehane’s trademark concerns are in place in this book: violence against children and child abuse (as was the focus in Gone Baby, Gone); a strong Greene Catholic morality; life and community in working class Irish Boston; and, more lightheartedly, the vicissitudes of contemporary culture (In one passage Sean’s partner Whitey actually discusses who should play him in the movie version of the case. “Brian Dennehy” is his conclusion. He is ultimately played in Clint Eastwood’s movie by the great Laurence Fishburne, which would probably have annoyed Whitey…if he were a real person).
Like the Danish television series The Killing, which this book predates, it does the unusual thing in crime fiction of keeping a focus on the bereaved and the details of bereavement not just the investigation. It is also in many respects, another rarity, a character driven crime novel: alongside the compelling procedural account of Sean’s investigation is the story of the consequences of Katie’s killing on, in particular, Dave and Jimmy, and it is from this that much of the tension and dread in the novel derives.
Mystic River is a gripping, out of the ordinary crime novel, powerful and bleak. It is probably Dennis Lehane’s masterpiece: an exquisitely written exploration of violent crime and its consequences in a working class Massachusetts neighbourhood.