Moonlight Mile, by Dennis Lehane

In this sequel to Gone, Baby, Gone Lehane brings back Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro. That brilliant and disturbing book centered on their search for the missing four-year-old Amanda. Now, twelve years later Patrick and Angie are the parents of their own little girl, Gabriella. Patrick is struggling to make a living as a private detective while Angie finishes her master's degree, but the tough economy has him reluctantly hoping to turn piece-work for a big firm into a permanent job. Unfortunately, as he's told by his contact there, he'll have to lose his attitude first. Then Bea McCready, Amanda's aunt, turns up and demands that Patrick find Amanda, now 16 and once again missing.

Sequels are risky business. You have the advantage of starting with characters who are likely to be familiar to the reader, but then you have the difficult task of providing enough characterisation and backstory so new readers won't feel left out while not boring your loyal longtime readers. Lehane's decision to let so much time pass between the two books gives him a way out of that dilemma: while still recognisably the same, the characters have aged and changed. One reason why sequels, especially in films, so often don't measure up to the original is that authors rely on the formula that worked for them the first time. Lehane never falls into that trap. He challenges himself with every book to become a better writer, always trying something new, such as with the psychological thriller Shutter Island and the historical novel The Given Day. This makes it all the more impressive that he has been able to return to these characters so successfully, coming to them almost as though they are entirely new to him.

I've been a fan of Lehane's writing right from the start. His books are compulsively readable. He has said himself that the mystery is least important part of his books. He sets out to tell a story. It may be a story about gentrification or ethics or what a failing economy does to ordinary people, but whatever it may be, he builds in serious thought and complexity along with a generous dose of smart humor. The mystery is there to serve the story.

We readers bring our own concerns to a book. For me, this week, revisiting a place I first saw over twenty years ago, I couldn't shake that double exposure feeling, the sense that I was following the shadow of my younger self, remembering how I perceived things then and what this place meant to me. So I was particularly attuned to the changes in Patrick and Angie: his recognition that age has slowed him down and made him less willing to put up with the b.s.; her declaration that nothing, not even the questions of right and wrong that drove her in the past, matters more than protecting Gabriella.

I was curious, too, to see who Amanda has become and what happened to Patrick and Angie's relationship after Gone, Baby, Gone. It's hard to let go of characters sometimes, hard for the writer, hard for the reader. Plus it's always fascinating to look at how people change over time and how they remain the same. I looked forward to reading this book, excited as soon as I heard about it, and I have to say that it is even better than I expected. Lehane never disappoints.

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