Monday, February 14, 2011

Going That Extra Mile

Beantown best-sellers Chris Mooney and Dennis Lehane

For me, one of the closing highlights to last October’s Bouchercon in San Francisco came when Rap Sheet editor J. (Jeff) Kingston Pierce passed me an advance reader’s copy of Dennis Lehane’s Moonlight Mile, which was due out in the States in November. It provided great company for me during my long flight(s) back home to London. And it was a real treat to have the novel months before its UK publication.

It wasn’t until last week that Moonlight Mile was finally released in Britain, thanks to Little, Brown UK (which has taken over the reins from Lehane’s former British publisher, Transworld). There are already numerous reviews of Moonlight Mile available in the press on both sides of the Atlantic, many--if not most--of them celebrating the long-awaited return, in this story, of Boston private detectives Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro (last seen in 1999’s Prayers for Rain). Moonlight Mile is a sequel to Lehane’s 1998 novel, Gone, Baby, Gone, which found Kenzie and Gennaro searching for an abducted 4-year-old girl, Amanda McCready. Amanda makes her own return in Moonlight Mile, though she’s now a dozen years older and no longer quite so helpless.

Lehane is scheduled to visit the UK this coming July to participate in the annual Theakstons Harrogate Crime Writing Festival. Until then, he’s busy laboring over a new novel. However, in association with Moonlight Mile’s British release, Little, Brown managed to arrange an interview for me with Lehane. We talked about the film version of Shutter Island, his habit of writing on the “high wire,” his favorite Robert B. Parker novel, the work of Scottish thriller writer Alistair MacLean, and his next book, which will reintroduce another character we’ve seen before.

Ali Karim: Before this month’s excitement over the UK release of Moonlight Mile, you were busy with the U.S. release of the same novel. Can you tell us a little about the American reception both for this book and its returning characters, Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro?

Dennis Lehane: Folks seem to dig it, and we’d had a long break from each other, so it was nice to hang out again. Amanda McCready [from Gone, Baby, Gone] just popped into my head. I’ve always idly wondered what happened to her, so that probably explains why she successfully lobbied for a comeback.

AK: Despite being a family man now, Patrick has not lost any of his “blue-collar” annoyance with the injustices he sees perpetrated around him on a too-frequent basis. Do you find it cathartic in some way to have Patrick provide social context to your fiction?

DL: Patrick has always been my way of looking at the world through a kind of modernized version of my father’s eyes. My father was working class; I’m the son of a working-class [man], but I’m no longer working class myself. It’s very important to me that Patrick remain working class.

AK: I know in your early work, you stated that you didn’t plot heavily. But did you not have to plot more extensively for Moonlight Mile?

DL: No, it was high wire all the way. I knew where Amanda was and why she was gone, but everything else was made up as I went. Probably shows too!

AK: Considering the success of big-screen versions of your work, including Gone Baby Gone, has there been any interest yet in filming Moonlight Mile?

DL: None that I’ve heard. The characters are 12 years older than their film versions, so Casey [Affleck] and Michelle [Monaghan] would probably have to spend a lot of time in the make-up chair. Plus, the film--as great as it was--was not a commercial success.

AK: Since we’re talking about films, let me ask: Are you at all interested in writing for the screen, after your work on the third season of the HBO-TV series The Wire? Especially as your name is now mentioned reverentially in Hollywood circles?

DL: I’ve written scripts. They just haven’t been produced yet. George Pelecanos and I just wrote one together for HBO that we’ve got high hopes for.

AK: Your 2003 novel, Shutter Island, is one of my all-time favorite gothic thrillers. Tell us your thoughts on that story’s transference to film.

DL: I thought it was terrific, made special when I visited the set and met with [director] Martin Scorsese, Leonardo DiCaprio, Sir Ben Kingsley, and Mark Ruffalo. I also met Max von Sydow; it’s a singular experience to shake the hand of The Exorcist himself, believe me. Too cool for words!

AK: And what did you think about the film’s ending, and the last line Teddy Daniels [DiCaprio] delivers, which perhaps made it more accessible for general movie-going audiences?

DL: It’s an interesting line. My concern was that it be clear that Mark Ruffalo’s character not hear it. As long as that was crystal clear, then I had no problem with the line. It’s an interesting way to go.

AK: And what did you make of Christian De Meter’s eerie graphic novel version of Shutter Island?

DL: Loved it. Gorgeous panels in there. Really well done ...

AK: Returning once more to the subject of detective fiction ... I think I speak for everyone associated with The Rap Sheet when I say we were all devastated by the death last January of Robert B. Parker. Listening to a radio interview you did at the time, I learned that you began reading Parker’s work at an early age. Which of his books would you say made the biggest impression on your young self?

DL: A good half-dozen of the books made huge impressions, and the sense of humor in those books had a watershed impact on me. But the one I loved most was probably Looking for Rachel Wallace [1980].

AK: During last fall’s Bouchercon in San Francisco, you arranged to have fellow Bostonian Chris Mooney read out your, er, F-bomb-filled “Appreciation of Lee Child” speech. Could you tell us why you enjoy the adventures of protagonist Jack Reacher, and why you think Child’s work has been so fondly embraced by readers?

DL: Because Lee does something that looks deceptively easy, but is actually near-impossible to pull off. I sure couldn’t do it. He creates a series super-hero and makes him interesting, book after book. And Lee writes pure suspense better than almost anyone alive.

AK: On the subject of Chris Mooney, why do you think his work is currently more popular in the UK than it is in his native USA?

DL: Beats me. I don’t engage in that kind of thinking. Chris’ publisher should probably figure it out. I love his work, though, so I wish it were different for him, but trying to figure the tastes of an entire country is a recipe for madness.

AK: I know one thing you share with Lee Child is that you both read a lot of Alistair MacLean thrillers in your youth. What was the appeal of Scotsman MacLean’s books to you, and which were your favorite novels among the many he wrote?

DL: Alistair MacLean would always set up his books with a basic foundation in which not a single thing you learned would turn out, in the end, to be true. After you read a few of his books, you’d start to look for the twists, but you could rarely see them coming. For a 12-year-old boy, this was heaven. Plus, a good half of his novels were set during World War II, which I’ve always been fascinated by. Where Eagles Dare is probably my favorite, though I love them all, and he wrote like 30 or 35 of them. Another I loved was called--if memory serves--South by Java Head.

AK: While at the last Bouchercon, I met up with your agent, Ann Rittenberg, and complemented her on her book, Your First Novel, which she wrote with Laura Whitcomb. I really enjoyed your introduction/preface to that work. Can you tell us how Ann reacted to your news that you wanted to take on a new Patrick and Angie novel after finishing your historical thriller, The Given Day?

DL: I told her when we were on a flight to Sweden together. She was very excited, but I’d also just told her my wife was pregnant and she was even more excited about that, which is sweet.

AK: I really enjoyed the political dimensions of The Given Day, which was set in Boston during the early 20th century. Were you surprised that not many readers picked up on the connections between the events in that book and the so-called War on Terror?

DL: I wasn’t surprised, no. Some books just take longer to connect on certain levels than others.

AK: The last time we met was back in 2009 at the Borders bookstore in Charing Cross Road, London. We discussed the worldwide economic crisis and its effects on publishing. Since then, Borders UK went bust and Borders U.S. has now sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. How do you view this situation?

DL: I think globalization is starting to reap what it sowed, which is a terrible result. The problem is that I just write and don’t know what to think. Maybe e-books will help, but I don’t know. It’s a troubling time for the industry.

AK: Finally, I have to ask: What are you working on presently?

DL: I’m working on several TV projects here and then my next novel, which involves one of the characters from The Given Day and the Prohibition era in the U.S.


Austin Carr said...

No matter how much money he makes, Dennis will always be working class.

ROBIN said...

Thanks for an interesting interview.

Made me want to pick up an Alistair MacLean novel. Sadly, they're virtually impossible to find in bookshops these days. Amazon, here I come.