Tough-as-nails crime fiction transcends genre in this first collection of five stories and a play (developed from one of them) from the Boston-area novelist (Sacred, 1997, etc.).
One hopes Clint Eastwood (who directed the Oscar-winning film based on Lehane’s superb Mystic River, 2001) will take a close look at “Running Out of Dog,” a pungent slice of Southern Gothic noir populated by runaway canines, restless Vietnam vets and the alluring women who seduce them into one another’s paths, fateful confrontations, and a savage fulfillment of its narrator’s observation that “when hope comes late to a man, it’s a dangerous thing.” This one is a classic: Robert Stone at his most unrelenting, with nerve-grating additional material contributed by Jim Thompson and dialogue by George V. Higgins. Lehane shows his talent for narrative economy in a brisk tale of revenge for drug-induced manslaughter (“Mushrooms”) and a surprisingly rich account (“Gone Down to Corpus”) of Texas high-school football jocks trashing the elegant homes of their “betters,” their destructive energies propelled by what the story’s narrator calls “something . . . I’m mad at, something I can’t put a name to.” The taut, disturbing “Until Gwen” employs grating, accusatory second-person narration to explore the murderous bonds linking a soulless con man, his hapless son (and sometime accomplice) and Gwen, whose fate drives the story toward its excruciating conclusion. And if all this weren’t sufficient evidence of Lehane’s virtuosity, there’s “Coronado,” which expands “Until Gwen” into a two-act play (premiered in New York in 2005) that reshuffles its aforementioned characters into three doomed couples who enact a murderous and suicidal progression through dynamic action, detailed flashbacks and harrowing fantasy sequences. It’s a knockout performance.
An impressive step forward for a writer of commanding gifts, who seems poised on the threshold of even greater accomplishment.