A few months ago, I read Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane, and I thought it was decent. Not amazing, but pretty good. My mother recommended Mystic River to me as a follow-up, because she loved it. Mystic River is a completely different story, though; it tells the story of time passing and lives colliding.
When they were children, Sean Devine, Jimmy Marcus, and Dave Boyle were friends. But then a strange car pulled up to their street. One boy got into the car, two did not, and something terrible happened — something that ended their friendship and changed all three boys forever.
Twenty-five years later, Sean is a homicide detective. Jimmy is an ex-con who owns a corner store. And Dave is trying to hold his marriage together and keep his demons at bay — demons that urge him to do terrible things. When Jimmy’s daughter is found murdered, Sean is assigned to the case. His investigation brings him into conflict with Jimmy, who finds his old criminal impulses tempt him to solve the crime with brutal justice. And then there is Dave, who came home the night Jimmy’s daughter died covered in someone else’s blood.
A tense and unnerving psychological thriller, Mystic River is also an epic novel of love and loyalty, faith and family, in which people irrevocably marked by the past find themselves on a collision course with the darkest truths of their own hidden selves.
Lehane does a lot of things well with this book, but I can only give it three out of five stars, for the same reasons I had trouble with Shutter Island: it’s just not enough.
Dennis Lehane provides a lot of environmental and character depth. I feel I know each of the speakers in this story intimately from his depiction, as well as the town they live in. The story is one we’re familiar with: a trio of young boys, one good, one erratic, and one follower, find themselves in trouble. And, just like an episode of Criminal Minds, one of the boys is kidnapped and violated.
I am not numb to the horror of this story, or to the artful way that Lehane takes his reader through past and present, and the investigation of a murder. I recognize that as it was published in 2003, the public at large had a different level of familiarity with human horrors. That said, my issue here is that the story doesn’t stand out. Ultimately, it is very sad, but there is no innovative “twist,” and no real commentary on the evils that play into the actions in this book. There is a lot there to work with — there is a rich environment, there are vivid characters — but they are largely neglected.
While in 2003 Mystic River was remarkable, it did not stand the test of time. That, I think, is the mark of a great book. It is what separates Greats like The Hobbit from regrettable fads (I’m looking at you, Twilight). While Lehane is a great writer, I have to look to the story — and I wish there were more there.