Dennis Lehane's Mystic River is more than a mystery novel, and it is more than a thriller. It is a captivating and heartfelt exploration into the souls of its characters. They may be fictional, stuck between the pages of the novel, but they seem like so much more -- like living, breathing people in 3-D. Real people. Lehane's talent makes each and every character come to life. I am amazed by the depth of insight provided — not because Lehane makes it work, but because with everything he gives, the book never slows or slacks. The tension is there always, and it builds and builds. And though you may think you know where everything is headed, you can't possibly. The climax will blindside you.
Jimmy and Sean are best friends. Jimmy lives in the poor part of town, and his father works for Sean's father at the Coleman Candy Plant. Every Saturday Jimmy and his dad visit Sean's family. While the fathers drink beer into the evening, Jimmy and Sean play. Sometimes Dave, from Jimmy's side of town, tags along, and though he's a little different they all do things together. The good times seem like they'll go on forever. But the good times don't go on forever. When things get rough at the plant, Jimmy's father is let go, putting an end to the weekly visits.
When Jimmy and Dave stop by Sean's to play, things get out of control. Jimmy and Dave get into a fistfight and wind up wrestling in the middle of the road. An unmarked police car stops the scuffle. Lying, Jimmy says he lives near by. Dave says he's from the other side of town. Upset at the children's behavior, the officers demand that Dave get into the car. They say that they're taking him home.
And life is never the same. The police officers are not police at all, and Dave never makes it home -- not until four days later. But by then he is merely a shell of the boy he had been before he climbed into that backseat.
Years later and all grown up now, Sean works as a homicide detective, flailing around in inner turmoil from a failing marriage. Dave is married with a son and still lives on the poor side of town. Though Jimmy's first wife died, the two did produce Katie, their beautiful daughter. After Jimmy spent time in prison, it was he and Katie against the world. In this time they bonded.
Jimmy remarries, and he and his new wife have a few daughters together. On the eve of her stepsister's communion, Katie, now 19, is viciously beaten and shot to death. Sean and his team of officers are assigned to work the investigation. Jimmy's family is shocked and horrified; Jimmy is ripped apart inside. Losing his daughter is more painful than anything he's ever suffered before. As the police search for answers, one likely suspect keeps coming into the equation: Dave.
Fast but tragic, Mystic River is almost overwhelmingly complex but delicate, raw but full of emotion -- in a word, heartbreaking. It is the kind of book that you could easily read in one sitting, if you had nothing to do for six hours. Lehane is a powerful writer, insightful, passionate, and it shows in every paragraph and on every page of this book. I'll say it again, powerful!