Since We Fell
By Dennis Lehane
420 pages, $27.99
Readers carried away by a good novel can enjoy the idea that it might become a movie. Dennis Lehane goes them one better: He wrote the novel "Since We Fell" and parts of the screenplay at the same time. And why not? His "Mystic River" and a handful of other best sellers plus work as a staff writer on the TV series "The Wire" almost guarantee good reading. The only caution might hover around his dark vision: Lehane faces evil straight on and lingers perhaps a few seconds too long at the painful twists befalling his characters, especially the most innocent.
The good news is that he lets up on the menace and murk, letting us revel – for a while – in the romantic pink clouds billowing around disgraced journalist Rachel Childs and her rescuer, the perfect lover who becomes the perfect husband, what's his name. And just what is his name?
The first half, more or less, obsesses over Rachel's search for her father. Rachel's mother, never married, had a Ph.D. and wrote a famous book (with two sequels) on how to stay married. Trouble is, she refuses to tell Rachel who her father is, sending Rachel on an eternal quest for him. As for her mother, Rachel only knows that her mother is an unhappy woman, so she was an unhappy child. Lehane sends his readers down several rabbit holes seeking Rachel's father's identity.
Berkshire Security Associates' private investigator, Brian Delacroix, private investigator, concludes that there is not enough information to find the man and fades into the background for a while. Following Rachel's career as TV news reporter from a worshipful distance, he eventually tries again to find the father, again unsuccessfully.
Looking for a big career break by covering the worst, the most hellish, place on earth, Rachel goes to Haiti just after a magnitude 7.0 earthquake strikes. She tries to protect two young girls from rape and death by a Haitian gangster-thug. She fails. She starts her days with four pills and some booze. She begins to see the girls' ghosts here and there.
After three panic attacks in one week, she takes some time off, then returns to work and eventually is sent back to Haiti. The squalor, disease and chaos have multiplied in her absence.
One day, narrating a routine news story on camera, she has a flashback. She sees one of the dead girls walking around the studio, begins babbling on camera and gets fired via phone call.
The remains of her marriage crumble. Drowning her sorrows after the divorce court session, she is accosted in a bar by a ruffian and is rescued by none other than Brian Delacroix.
In some prisons, rehab staff are said to have the offenders read romance novels to see how to relate to women without abusing them. Wherever Lehane found his information, he has Brian do every supportive, sexy, nurturant, tender, strong thing women wish their boyfriends and husbands would do.
He rides endless escalators with Rachel as she works out the panic and flashbacks that have kept her a psychological prisoner in her own home for a year and a half. When she sweats and tries to bolt, he reassures her, talking her back to quiet confidence. He holds her hand, keeps her steady. She adores him. Then . . .
She catches sight of him in Boston, when he is supposed to be in a plane to London. She confronts him. He denies it. He produces receipts from a London store. She catches a tiny mistake showing the receipts are fake. The emotional roller-coaster and action-movie section of the plot is off and running.
When Brian leaves for his next business trip, Rachel rents a car and follows him. The rest of the book – the second half – has the ingredients of classic action movies. Think "The Sting" and even the chase in "Bullitt." The dialogue is worthy of the 1930s' "Thin Man" series. One may even suspect that Lehane tested cars of different makes, taking notes on which spin their wheels or slip their gears or whatever other temperamental behavior cars exhibit. For all the driving these characters do, it never gets boring.
He withholds just enough information to keep the suspense level high. Red herrings abound. What is Delacroix's real name? Several are offered. As for Lehane's tolerance for evil, he keeps it somewhat in abeyance while giving fans their allotment of crunching cartilage.
Finally, the pink clouds of infatuation enveloping Rachel and Brian or whatever his name is – Lehane saves that resolution for last. No fair peeking at the end.
Stephanie Shapiro is a former News reporter and editor.