Hubbub: Dennis Lehane
BEEN HEARING A LOT OF BOSTON crime stories lately? You can thank Dennis Lehane for that. In novels like Gone Baby Gone, Mystic River, and Shutter Island, he tapped into the city’s gritty side. The film adaptations that followed cemented his standing as the new godfather of Boston noir. On November 2 the Dorchester writer releases his latest book, Moonlight Mile, returning to his PI duo of Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro for the first time since 1999. What’s changed for Lehane since then? For one, it’s a whole lot easier to get a decent restaurant reservation.
What made you want to finally get back to Kenzie and Gennaro?
They were knocking. I was in a cab, and Patrick’s voice just came into my head. I said, “Wow, where’ve you been?” In some regards, it was great, because it was like putting on a pair of old jeans. In other regards, it was not so good, because the old jeans were out of style, and I’ve gained a few pounds.
You also keep the book present day. You can feel the economy’s collapse. I didn’t come back to these characters after 11 years to just write another detective novel. You know what I mean? Early on I had the scene where Patrick gets jacked up by a homeless guy. Then I thought, Why don’t you use this to actually say something?
You hit General Motors, the banks, healthcare. It may just be the feel-good crime novel of the recession. In terms of GM, good lord. All through the Iraq war, I wanted to vomit every time I saw a Humvee drive by. The great thing about the Patrick books is you can do them with a very light touch. He can have fun. What you want to avoid is a soapbox. It’s so hard sometimes, but you have to stay off that fucking thing.
Patrick has a four-year-old daughter. Reading some of their banter, I said, “I bet this is a scene out of the Lehane household.” Except that my daughter’s not that age yet. My daughter right now is 15 months, so I get a lot of yogurt spit at me.
I read that you write your drafts in notebooks. Have you saved them up? Maybe put them together in a scroll, Kerouac-style? No, but people will approach me and ask. The BU library, for instance, is kind of famous for approaching local writers. So far I’ve held them off.
Why keep them to yourself? Why keep an old shirt? There’s a personal thing to it. I’ve got a notebook I wrote a ton of Shutter Island in, but my dog ate a lot of it. And I put that dog down — not for eating the book, but many years later. And now whenever I look at that notebook, I’m like, “That’s my dog; I can’t just give that away.”
You have a funny sort of fame. People know your name but not necessarily your face. I love that. I get to do whatever the hell I want and be largely unnoticed. At the same time, if I want a dinner reservation? Done. That is so awesome. They say, “Well, we don’t have any tables till 9:30. What’s your name?” And I give them my name. “Oh yeah, we actually have a 7 o’clock table.” I love that.
Now I’m going to start booking reservations as Dennis Lehane. Yeah, and then fuck me up. Thank you.
You’re famous as the Boston noir guy now. When I saw The Town, someone turned around and said, “Oh, I love Lehane movies.”
I’ll be out at a bar and somebody will come up to me and say, “Oh, hey, Mr. Lehane, I loved The Departed.” I say, “Thanks, but I didn’t write it.” The past couple of years, I had to keep telling people I didn’t write The Departed; now it’s going to be The Town. And The Town, both the script and the book, were written by guys I know, so it’s like doubly embarrassing.
You get credit for everything, huh? If somebody in a bar has a gun, and it’s set in Boston, then it’s me.