The highs of Rachel’s work in journalism brought her excitement, fulfilment and an outgoing husband to boot. She could not see how that could ever change. Until one wartime assignment took Rachel’s confidence, her career and the life of a young girl.
As you read SINCE WE FELL your expectations do fluctuate as to how the rest of the novel might shape up. The first third of the book is all solid backstory and quite satisfying; so much so that if we were to wrap this novel up as a drama read without the inclusion of the murders, it would serve very well. Dennis Lehane writes masterfully with all possible confidence as a writer and this is what we expect from his works – to be entertained, challenged and by novel’s end, satisfied.
The domestic thriller is the modern juggernaut of crime fiction. It’s fantastic for readers to see the crime giants like Lehane write works for this space and with each new release there is great anticipation to see where these writers will take the genre. Here, we have a novel that powers forward for a good two thirds. After this point, we are left wondering if we missed that left-hand turn at Albuquerque.
SINCE WE FELL is almost two books. It is certainly not a suspenseful screeching thriller that spirals towards a heart thumping conclusion; rather melancholic in flavour really as we lament the choices that Rachel has made. Not every novel needs to end with a proven hero, everybody being happy, all threads resolved etc. SINCE WE FELL is almost the alternate domestic thriller, not redemptive, not nail-bitingly tense; instead measured and thoughtful with insight into how a damaged person is able adapt dramatically in order to survive.
Review - Since We Fell, Dennis Lehane
I LOVED YOU
I HATED YOU
I NEVER KNEW YOU...
Rachel's husband adores her. When she hit rock bottom, he was there with her every step of the way as she slowly regained her confidence, and her sanity. But his mysterious behaviour forces her to probe for the truth about her beloved husband.
How can she feel certain that she ever knew him?
And was she right to ever trust him?
Dennis Lehane takes a swerve away from his long running Kenzie and Genaro series (which includes Gone, Baby Gone) and his recent prohibition and gangsters trilogy to deliver a psychological thriller of sorts. Since We Fell is a book that is hard to categorise. In some ways it is an extended character study and in others it is an extremely long con not only of some of the characters but of the reader. For that reason it takes a long time for the novel to really come into focus with some readers possibly only hanging in to resolve the strong opening hook.
Since We Fell opens with a bang, literally. Rachel shoots her husband on the deck of a boat and he flops over the side. Why she has taken the shot and what happens next will have to wait as Lehane takes us back to Rachel’s childhood and her difficult relationship with her mother. Following her mother’s death, Rachel goes on a years long search for the father that she never knew and who her mother refused to tell her about. Through this search she meets Brian, a private detective who, after much trauma on her part comes spectacularly back into her life.
The first two thirds of Since We Fell is essentially a character study of Rachel – the foundation of her deep anxieties and agoraphobia, her desire for safety and security, her extreme response when things don’t turn out the way she expects. Only some of which is really relevant for the final third of the book when the pieces fall into place and the action kicks in. At which point Since We Fell starts to feel like a different book altogether – full of violent goons, sleights of hand and plenty of gun play.
It feels like Lehane is trying to do too much in Since We Fell. The naturalistic exploration of Rachel’s mental state is undermined by the extreme suspension of disbelief needed to follow the plot. And again, in the final third of the book Rachel manages to throw off the burden of mental illness that she has been carrying in order to both forward that plot and be an effective actor in its resolution. The idea being, I think, that all she really needed was something bigger to focus on outside of her own worries.
The lengthy and detailed start of the book becomes irrelevant by about half way through, used only as a way to manoeuvre various characters into place. The original hook is almost forgotten by the time it rolls around again, with only some well-timed hints to keep the reader’s appetite whetted. And its resolution requires such a breathtaking suspension of disbelief that it skews the rest of the plot. The last third, while nominally exciting and well written does not feel it resolves any of the real issues that were raised earlier on and just leaves the reader constantly asking “but why…?”. So that in the end Since We Fell doesn’t work. There is definitely some psychology here but possibly not the psychological thriller that fans of Lehane’s work and of good thrillers more broadly would have been hoping for.
Review - WORLD GONE BY, Dennis Lehane
Ten years have passed since Joe Coughlin's enemies killed his wife and destroyed his empire, and much has changed. Prohibition is dead, the world is at war again, and Joe's son, Tomas, is growing up. Now, the former crime kingpin works as a consigliore to the Bartolo crime family, travelling between Tampa and Cuba, his wife's homeland.
Denis Lehane returns to the world of gangsters and organised crime in World Gone By. In 2008, Lehane, already known for his Kenzie and Genarro crime series (of which Gone Baby Gone is the best known) and stand alone novels like Mystic River and Shutter Island, penned The Given Day: a historical epic about the fiercely Irish Coughlin family set during the 1919 Boston Police riots. The loosely connected sequel Live by Night, stepped forwards a few years and centred around black sheep of the Coughlin family, Joe, who finds himself enmeshed in the prohibition era organised crime. Live by Night chartered Joe’s rise from a small time hood in Boston, through wit and guile and a propensity for violence, to running a crime syndicate in Florida.
World Gone By finds Joe ten years on. He has stepped down from the top role, ceding it to his oldest friend (and more importantly Italian) Dion Bartolo. Joe is the consigliere, the fixer. Every crime family and syndicate owes him for some scheme he has put in place to make them money. As Dion says at one point – this is their “thing”, finding ways to screw the Government out of money. So when Joe learns that someone has taken a contract out on him, he needs to find out why.
But the contract is just a symptom of wider changes occurring in the world that Joe has built. While the old guard try to hold things together, their younger, power hungry lieutenants are restless and start to use the old rules to fashion their own, new world order. World Gone By, as the title suggests is looking at change - change of attitude, change of rules, change of generation – and of the dangers of looking back versus the risks of looking forward. Joe sees this almost physically in the form of a ghostly image of a young boy from his past. But others are haunted too by the choices that they made and the lives that they have led. This feeling is instilled in the book right from the first chapter, where a journalist reflects on photos of a charity ball that Joe hosted and how many of the people in those photos are now dead.
Joe Coughlin is a complex and engaging anti-hero. He constantly strives to do what he thinks is the right thing within a fundamentally corrupt and corrupting system. Joe does not think of himself as ‘bad’ although he accepts that he does bad things. But as the threat comes closer to him and his family Joe’s propensity for violent solutions comes to the surface. Despite this, Joe constantly tries to set an example for his ten year old son, and wants him to think well of him despite his day job as a gangster.
World Gone By is another brilliant, layered crime novel from Lehane, one of the world’s premier crime writers. It can be read as a stand alone, but readers of the earlier novels will be more rewarded. The plot ticks over with plenty of twists and turns to keep the reader guessing. The descriptions and set pieces are cinematic. The dialogue shifts from goodfellas style talk to deep conversations about the nature of good and evil, racism and morality. This is a writer at the top of his game.