Mystic River (2001) by Dennis Lehane Review
A child kidnapping that sparked a small town community; a murder surrounding three old friends that brings back loose threads and dissonance, Dennis Lehane’s Mystic River is a testament that defies the conventionality of the quintessential mystery novel. Mystery thrillers sold in compact, mass market paperbacks are typically stereotyped into a bucket of “light” literature, tomes meant to entertain without any literary value to it. Mystic River eludes that formula. On the surface, this novel is a whodunit on a brutal killing of a nineteen-year-old adult, but it is also a colloquy to a group’s friendship, on how the past can affect their loyalty, and how this sooner leads to guilt and vengeance. This novel has elaborately realized characters in grey waters that serve as a variegated opposition to all the one-dimensional personalities reigning in similar and current literature.
The plot isn’t meant to stand among the great architects of the written work. Genre-wise, it isn’t as riveting as say, Flynn’s work or any other similar “twisty” authors. In fact, as a mystery, it is quite easy to solve. It may have a great structural narrative, but Lehane’s novel works within a given set of rules that the twist in the end isn’t really a twist if one is paying attention to every single detail. In Mystic River, Lehane embodies meaning behind the psychological traumas in the past. He expresses the loss of identity through a series of inexplicable events that follow a tragedic affair. It explores character transformation within a spectrum of loss, colliding with recurring motifs of allegiance and honor. As the discomfort multiplies into a prominent climax, all things boil down to a grande finale where each of the characters is adhered into some sort of altercation, the novel forming its resolution through shared truths, past lies, and the exceptional virtue of forgiveness.
Throughout the novel, there is a volumetric love towards these characters that it’s hard not to sympathize with them at some point or another. In the end, the mystery feels like an infinitesimal subplot as the novel is truly about a group of three friends whose loyalty is put to the test. It may be hard to sell this novel to other readers as it’s quite difficult to truly categorize this. Mystic River is a stunning fruition of character development that it is impossible not to notice. It is almost perfect, though this may disappoint some who look for an unpredictable end. I believe that the end is justified as this is a novel of strengths and weaknesses; the latter only being embossed on the finale while the former being a shower of conglomerate themes on the literary concord.