REVIEW: 'Mystic River' by Dennis Lehane

Mystic River (2003) by Dennis Lehane is set in the author’s hometown of Boston. It is a poignant and emotionally moving story that cleverly disguises itself as a police procedural.

In fact, the story is told in third person and seems to be more of a character driven crime novel. One of the best I’ve read.

The story introduces the friendship of three boys who grew up together in the mid-1970’s. The three boys will eventually grow up to take different paths in life only to find themselves reunited again under different circumstances.

The three boys are: Dave Boyle, the kid with the sad eyes and hopeful grin who is now married with one son. Jimmy Marcus, the wild kid, full of energy who would grow up to be a convict, serving two years in prison before going straight. Then there is Sean Devine, the laid back kid, who came from a blue-collar family who is now a cop, married to his work and separated from his wife.

The story takes us back twenty-five years ago, to a moment in time, when a car drives up on Gannon Street and Dave Boyle gets in. This single event changes his life forever. Dave still lives in the same neighborhood where the people he grew up with knew what had happened to him. He was known as the boy who was abducted and sexually abused. He was someone to be pitied and shunned.

After Dave’s abduction and return, the friendship with the other two boys irrevocably ends and the kids drift apart. The past yields to the present and the men who were once friends long ago find themselves drawn back together again under less than ideal circumstances.

Mystic River is not an easy read nor did I expect it to be. Lehane’s razor sharp characterizations is one of the main reasons why I enjoy his work. His stories are almost always gripping and intense when he decides to explore the pathos of human immorality.

As for Dave Boyle, he truly is a sympathetic character. A guy who is described as handsome with sad eyes; someone people felt the need to protect. Since getting in that car twenty-five years ago, Dave is still haunted by the past and still battling his demons. He is angered that his childhood was snatched from him. From the way the story ended, one wonders if he could have salvaged his life somehow.

Jimmy Marcus is a complex character. He’s a former thief who now owns and operates the corner store in the neighborhood he grew up in. I was moved by how much Jimmy loved his daughter, Katie. In that he decided to go straight to provide her with a stable life after her mother dies while he is in prison. It was just the two of them before Jimmy remarried and had two more children. Katie’s death broke something in Jimmy and his grief was a palpable thing.

I was thinking about Mystic River, the title of this story and why it was so named and it seems symbolic to me in that it was a river polluted by human waste in regards to polluting the human spirit.

My favorite character was Sean Divine. He is the State Trooper who investigates the death of Jimmy’s daughter, Katie Marcus. Sean is another interesting character. He is jaded and numbed by the evilness of society. Constantly faced with human weakness and disappointment, he let his feelings about his job spill into his marriage. As a result, Sean’s estranged wife calls him from time to time, from a random pay phone but she doesn’t say a word.

Mystic River is a solidly written story. I liked how the mystery unfolded and how the pieces slowly came together. I like stories that engage you emotionally and on a level where your heart starts to race every time the author tightens up the tension. Or you find yourself about to cry over a characters fate or you find yourself deeply moved by the grief and chaos surrounding these people’s lives. With Mystic River, you become deeply involved and heavily invested in the story.

I’m glad I got to read Mystic River having avoided the movie for that very reason. I thought Mystic River was captivating as usual but the overly depressing tone may be too much for some readers to take. Mystic River will be a story that I will reflect upon and think about from time to time. It was an engrossing story from the start and by a talented writer who continues to amaze me. My grade, A.

This book as many of you are already aware is adapted into film of the same name and was directed by Clilnt Eastwood, that starred Sean Penn, Tim Robbins and Kevin Bacon. Actors whose faces I imagined while reading this story. The movie received a lot of critical acclaim and awards. Mystic River is available in ebook and paperback at your favorite bookstore.

Make sure to look out for Dennis Lehane’s next book that’s due out September 23 and it is a historical epic titled, The Given Day. The film rights have already been optioned.


About Keishon

Voracious reader of just about everything.
This entry was posted in Book Reviews, Grade A Reviews, Mystery and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to REVIEW: 'Mystic River' by Dennis Lehane

  1. Taja says:

    Thanks for the review. I thought I would pass on this one since I saw the movie, but you mention a couple of things I look for in novels and now I’m on the fence about it.

    (Who am I kidding? Given enough time, I’ll eventually read it!)

  2. Avid Reader says:

    Hey Taja – I never saw the movie and I am glad that I didn’t. I will watch it now to see how well Eastwood captured the essence of these characters and the tone and mood of the story. Mystic River just rocked despite being written 5 years ago.

    Lehane just cannot write a bad book now. In fact, he has gotten better with each successive book that he has written and is now this talented writer who has set the bar high even for himself. I am reading Prayers for Rain now and will review it because I like him and because this is my blog after all. {g}

    All of this is to say that I hope you read Mystic River.

  3. Jessica says:

    I loved the movie (or anything Eastwood directs actually) and I actually show the movie in one of my classes (its great for moral ambiguity), but it never occurred to me to read the book. You’ve got me interested!

    Wasn’t another of his books made into a move directed by Ben Affleck?

  4. Avid Reader says:

    Wasn’t another of his books made into a move directed by Ben Affleck?

    Yes. That book was Gone Baby Gone which is apart of an excellent series featuring Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro featuring a couple of PI’s and the story is set in Boston. The first book is A Drink Before the War. I haven’t seen the film version of Gone Baby Gone either but the book is excellent. I had also heard that Scorcesse was adapting Shutter Island with Leonardo DiCaprio. I loved Shutter Island. I guess it’s safe to say that I’ve enjoyed all of his books 🙂

  5. Jessica says:

    Thanks for that list!

    (Hey, wasn’t A Drink Before the War an old Sinaed O’Connor song? And am I really dating myself by remembering that?).

    I am definitely going to read at least one of these. Thanks!

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