Friday, 5 May 2017

Since We Fell by Dennis Lehane Review

Rachel hasn’t had the best life: her dad left when she was a baby and her manipulative, cruel mother took his identity with her to the grave. Her cold husband divorced her after she had a mental breakdown covering the Haiti earthquake, the trauma causing her to lose her job as a journalist as well as turning her into a shut-in. By chance she meets her future second husband and the love of her life, Brian, who slowly helps turn things around for her. Until she realises he’s been lying to her since Day 1 about who he is and what he does. So who is “Brian” really and what does he do? Deadly consequences await Rachel as she begins to look into her beloved husband’s secret life…! 

I love me some Dennis Lehane. Shutter Island is an insanely brilliant mystery thriller and up there with anything Agatha Christie ever wrote (the undisputed master of the genre) and Moonlight Mile was a great crime story too. While The Drop put me off Lehane for a couple years, I’m pleased to say he’s found inspiration again with a new high quality novel: Since We Fell. 

Here’s the biggest problem with the book, which might be a deal-breaker for some: the novel is a smidge over 400 pages and roughly the first 200 pages is irrelevant build-up. Yeah. That’s a lotta build-up! You know what it is? I think it’s Lehane trying to have his cake and eat it too. The first half is a literary character portrait of a troubled woman: we follow her quest to find her long-lost dad, the scenes of devastation in Haiti, becoming agoraphobic and slowly overcoming it. Then the second half is gloriously pure trashy airport thriller as Rachel gets caught up in the mystery of the husband she never knew. Lehane's playing to both the arty and populist crowds in the same book.

That’s not to say I hated the first half. The entire book is well-written and Lehane finds the raw emotional humanity in the Haiti scenes which were very powerfully realised. I wasn’t caught up in the missing father story or her first marriage but I wasn’t totally bored either – Lehane did just enough to keep me turning the page. But it’s also not the book I wanted to read. And comparing the first half to the second? It’s like night and day, the contrast is so sharp. I mean, Lehane’s in second gear for 200 pages and then suddenly he finds fifth gear! I read the first 200 pages in a week and a half and the second 200 in less than 24 hours. Lehane knows exactly how to hook the reader and take them on a breathlessly thrilling ride, executing the second half of this book in the genre style flawlessly. 

I think I understand why he wrote the book like this. Firstly it invests you in Rachel’s character more so that when things kick up exponentially you care about what happens to her. But that structure also plays into the duality theme of the story: Rachel is looking for a man she didn’t know, her father, and then she’s doing the same in the second half with her husband. Unfortunately that doesn’t make the first half any less sluggish to read though and I’d have been happier with the literary pretensions excised completely, leaving us with a white-hot 200/250-page read instead. 

Aside from an abrupt ending, which was the only part of the book that could’ve used more pages, the second half of the book was so good that it mostly made up for the slow, meandering first half. It’s asking a lot for mystery/thriller fans to endure 200 pages of build-up but, if you’re willing, you get an awesome payoff. I definitely fell for Since We Fell – Dennis Lehane is BACK!

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