Gone, Baby, Gone - Dennis Lehane

"When a child disappears, the space she'd occupied is immediately filled with dozens of people. And these people--relatives, friends, police officers, reporters from both TV and print--create a lot of energy and noise, a sense of communal intensity, of fierce and shared dedication to a task.

But amid all that noise, nothing is louder than the silence of the missing child. It's a silence that's to and a half to three feet tall, and you feel it at your hip and hear it rising from the floorboards, shouting to you from the corners and crevices and the emotionless face of a doll left on the floor by the bed. It's a silence that's different from the one left at funerals and wakes. The silence of the dead carries with it a sense of finality; it's a silence you know you must get used to.  But the silence of a missing child is not something you want to get used to; you refuse to accept it, and so it screams at you.

The silence of the dead says, Goodbye.

The silence of the missing says, Find me."

I cannot believe I've been missing out on these books for all these years.

How can I have trawled through so much mediocre pulp and have never run into them?

Good noir writing is tense and heartrending, terse yet vivid.  Lehane's style isn't simply "good noir." His writing is so fluid and poetic and layered that it is practically hypnotic.  I have a relatively low horror threshold: despite my fondness for hardboiled and noir, I don't handle graphic violence or atrocity particularly well. When things get to grotesque, I either put down the book or start detaching and heading into mockery mode. Yet despite all the horrific events and pain and horror and betrayal, the strength of Lehane's voice dragged me through the whole novel.  I'm still not quite sure whether or not to be grateful for that.


Patrick Kenzie and his partner, Angie Gennaro, have been called in by the aunt of a kidnapped child. One night, Amanda McCready, aged four, was left alone in her unlocked house while her careless mother met up with a girlfriend.  The next morning, the girl had disappeared.  Patrick and Angie aren't sure they want in--they'd rather stick with divorce and runaway iguanas--but Amanda is out there, and she's four years old, and there's no one to speak for her.  So Patrick and Angie take the case, which quickly devolves into a twisted knot of corruption, crime lords, and terrifying inhumanity.


The grey world of noir provides plenty of opportunity for commentary about man's darker nature, and Lehane is certainly not sparing in this respect. At one point, one of the characters is threatened by the men she has come to interrogate.  Patrick realizes,

So this is how it happens. A woman with intelligence, pride, and beauty enters a place like this and the men get a glimpse of all they’ve been missing, all they can never have. They’re forced to confront the deficiencies of character that drove them to a dump like this in the first place. Hate, envy, and regret all smash through their stunted brains at once. And they decide to make the woman regret, too-regret her intelligence, her beauty, and, especially, her pride. They decide to smash back, pin the woman to the bar, spew and gorge.

At another moment, Patrick and Angie think wistfully about starting a family:

 "Lying like this, so close, so warm with the other’s heat, so deeply, deeply enthralled with each other, it was easy to wish life was beginning at this moment in her womb. All that was sacred and mysterious about a woman’s body in general and Angie’s in particular seemed locked in this cocoon of sheets, this soft mattress and rickety bed. It all seemed so clear suddenly.

But the world was not this bed. The world was cement-cold and jaggedly sharp. The world was filled with monsters who’d once been babies, who’d started as zygotes in the womb, who’d emerged from woman in the only miracle the twentieth century has left, yet emerged angry or twisted or destined to be so. How many other lovers had lain in similar cocoons, similar beds, and felt what we felt now? How many monsters had they produced? And how many victims?"

As is always the case with this genre, an apparently simple case leads Patrick and Angie down an increasingly twisted, murky pathway, in which corruption and neglect and violence rule. There are moments in which the violence and depravity is so terrible that I wanted to put the book down, but couldn't force myself to do it. I'm not sure how I feel about the central plot reveal, but independent of my reactions, I was sucked into the plot.



How do these cops, these multiple murderers, these men who condone truly terrible deeds, have the right to decide what makes a "good" family?  How can they view themselves as "good" men?  How detrimental is it for a child to be raised in a home where these actions are considered righteous?


I also don't think Lehane's statistics on parental rights are correct.  TPR (Termination of Protective Rights) actually isn't all that rare, and allowing your child to develop third-degree burns, plus family statements about abuse, would probably get Amanda in the system.  Next question is whether the system is actually any better, but the real question is whether it is better than being raised by corrupt cops who believe that might equals right and that some people are more equal than others.

(show spoiler)


Lehane is a fantastic, multilayered writer.  His style has a grace and power that is unique among the noir/hardboiled writers I've encountered.  Despite a certain amount of plot-induced PTSD, I'll definitely be on the lookout for more of his books.