Patrick Kenzie & Angela Gennaro
Created by Dennis Lehane (1965--)
Dennis Lehane's 1994 A Drink Before the War marked a big-time debut, and introduced childhood pals turned Boston private eyes PATRICK KENZIE and ANGELA GENNARO. Patrick and Angie grew up in an Irish/Polish/Italian working-class neighbourhood where "your boundaries begin in the schoolyard and last a lifetime," (according to Margaret Cannon), who summed it all up as "a major debut." They now run their dettive agency out of a church where "all manners of unholiness cross their threshold".
Patrick and Angela are on-again, off-again lovers, who nevertheless seem to work well together, although they often seem to rely on Bubba Rogowski, their arms-dealing old school buddy who I find more interesting than either of them, despite his ridiculous name. (Bubba? Sheesh!) He's described by Patrick in the acclaimed 1994 series debut A Drink Before the War as
Despite the acclaim, I wasn't convinced. I found the characters seemed just too much like characters, if you know what I mean, and subsequent novels seem to have wandered all over the stylistic map, nipping into the serial killer genre here, borrowing a little David and Maddy from Moonlighting there (albeit in a suitably hard-boiled way, of course). A lot of violence, and overblown plots full of child abusers, rapists, wife beaters, serial killers and other monsters to seemingly prove Lehane's hard-boiled cred, plus a little soul-searching, and the almost-obligatory-by-now psycho sidekick make these seem like almost a blueprint for nineties hardboiled fiction, albeit on a larger scale than most -- prompting me at one point to unintentionally refer to the fourth book in the series as Long, Baby, Long.
But what do I know? The series has proven extremely popular, with Lehane's reputation growing in stature with each new book. The successful film adaptation of his standalone Mystic River certainly didn't hurt, either.
And then actor Ben Affleck, another Boston boy, chose the 1998 Kenzie/Gennaro novel Gone, Baby, Gone as his directorial debut. It was, by almost any measure, an audacious choice that resulted in one of the great P.I. films of all time. No, it's not Chinatown or The Maltese Falcon, but it's within spitting distance. In stripping the story down to its bare bones, Affleck succeeded in making me see anew what I had missed on the printed page: the moral burden Kenzie drags with him throughout the series.
Which made me more receptive to Moonlight Mile (2010), Lehane's return, after an eleven year absence (Patrick started knocking on the door again, Lehane explains), to the Kenzie-Gennaro series, and perhaps significantly, a sequel of sorts to Gone, Baby, Gone. With a new-found appreciation of the characters and more muscular plotting, I completely bought the premise.
In fact, Moonlight Mile may be one of the most important books in -- and about -- the private eye genre that I've read in years: audacious, uncompromising, mature, provocative and, oh yeah, still delivering some truly kick ass action.
-- Margaret Cannon, The Globe and Mail
Whew. It's been a long time a-coming, but we finally have a great P.I. film. And I don't mean "pretty good" or "not bad" -- i mean "great." Ben Affleck makes his directorial debut, stepping up to the plate and knocking it out of the park. This is an almost perfect film, from the razor-sharp cast (inluding the deservedly Oscar-nominated Amy Ryan, and featuring Michelle Monaghan and Ben's kid brother Casey's as P.I. couple Angie Genarro and Patrick Kenzie) to the bravura adaptation of Lehane's novel, which cuts all the fat off, and gets right to the story's dark, black heart.. A measure of this film's success is the anger some (including the Girl Detective) have expressed at the film's ending. Not that they didn't believe it, but that they didn't agree with it. Morally ambivalent, brooding, bittersweet -- this one will pierce your heart. Guaranteed. It's not Chinatown or The Maltese Falcon, but it's not far behind. This is the sort of film that reminds me why I love detective fiction. Highly and heartily recommended.
1999 interview conducted by Karen G. Anderson.
Illuminating interview conducted by Crescent Blues, featuring Dennis Lehane and fellow crimewriter George Pelecanos at a joint reading and book signing at the Mystery Bookshop in Bethesda, Md., in June 1999.
The Thrilling Detective review by Christopher Friesen.
This site's preliminary listing of Beantown eyes.
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