Darkness, Take My Hand  - Dennis Lehane I'm usually pretty skeptical of anything that comes of out the genre fiction section of a bookstore. I'm not trying to be a book snob, I promise, but when James Patterson and Nora Roberts churn out a book every six weeks I have a few doubts that I'm going to find any quality between those covers. One of my roommates during grad school insisted that I give Dennis Lehane a shot. I loved Mystic River and when Moonlight Mile - the most recent book in the Kenzie and Gennaro series - turned out to be pretty enjoyable, I decided to try the series from the beginning. Radnor Library had other ideas, though, so I ended up with book #2.

Narrated by snarky Boston private detective Patrick Kenzie, Darkness Take My Hand opens at the end of the story. The prologue tells us that Kenzie's office has been temporarily closed, his partner Angie Gennaro is simply "gone." Patrick alludes to cryptic events that he tries not to think about, which are revealed when chapter one rewinds three months. It begins when a college psychiatrist, Dr. Warren, is visited by a student using the pseudonym Moira Kenzie. The girl claims to be dating a man with mafia connections, then she vanishes and Dr. Warren receives an ominous photograph of her son in the mail. Believing that she has become the target of an angry mobster, Dr. Warren asks Kenize and Gennaro to intervene on her behalf. It turns out that there's more to the case than just a moody mobster - and the connections begin hitting too close to home for Patrick.

Let me start by saying that I love Lehane's writing style. He's crisp, quick, and somehow manages to tie Shakespeare criticism into a conversation about serial killers without it feeling awkward. There's a lot of layers to this story, and Lehane poses some difficult questions about the nature of justice versus morality, about what constitutes a good guy versus a bad guy. Having just seen Into the Abyss, Werner Herzog's documentary about death row, a few days before I started this book, a conversation between Patrick and a former cop about the notion that it's forgivable to murder a killer stuck out to me:

"Kara Rider's life was worth more than the life of the guy who killed her."
"Utilitarian logic at its best...If you presuppose that a victim's life is worth more than a murderer's, and then you yourself go and kill that murderer, doesn't that make your own life less worthy than the murderer you killed?"

This more or less sums up the entire conflict of the novel. It's a question that Patrick Kenzie grapples with as he and Angie investigate what has quickly escalated into a string of murders. Patrick justifies the sadistic torture and murder of criminals by telling himself that he only watched as it happened - he didn't participate. It's an interesting element, but I felt that Lehane never truly brought it full circle. Not that there needs to be a lesson learned at the end of every mystery, but I wanted some sort of resolution aside from the bad guy getting his.

Speaking of, Lehane dropped some wildly huge clues way too early and I solved the mystery about 200 pages in. Once you solve a mystery, the subsequent inability of the detective character to catch the additional hints becomes frustrating. Also, the whole serial-killer-manipulating-the-world-from-behind-bars schtick was way too cliche. There had to be a way for Lehane to pose his questions with a little more subtlety.

If this was the first of Dennis's books I'd read, I'd probably be bailing ship right now. I'm curious, though, as to how he continues to address these questions throughout the series, so I'll probably pick up the next book when I'm looking for a quick, easy read.