Lehane’s phenomenal storytelling abilities are on full display in Since We Fell. The theme of secrets and lies within the bonds of family motivate Rachel Childs, whose father left when Rachel was just a child. Over the years, Rachel has tried to come to terms with James’s desertion. Her anger has morphed into “depthless hate” that is magnified by her mother’s refusal to tell her daughter anything about her father. Concerned at first by the trauma of discovery, Rachel’s mother--author Elisabeth Childs--sets out to protect Rachel, until she is unexpectedly killed in a violent traffic accident.
A terrible sense of angst prevails now that her mother is gone. Working through a series of events that will forever change her life, Rachel embarks on an investigation into finding her father’s true identity. No one however, seems to know anything about him. In order to make sense of Elisabeth’s chaotic jumble of secrets, Rachel visits Berkshire Security Associates. There she meets with Brian Delacroix, a private investigator who carries himself with “the tangy ease of a jogger.” Earnest and older than his years, Brian launches an investigation but ultimately comes up with nothing: “she told me once when she’d had a few drinks, that the night she went into labor they were fighting and he was out of town.”
In these early sections (in which Rachel tells us that she’s just shot her husband), Lehane works hard to sustain the twists and turns in Rachel’s life as she goes to college, gets a job in news media, and eventually rises to the top as a national network reporter. It all comes crashing down when she has a panic attack while reporting on the devastation of the Haiti earthquake. Twisted with bewilderment, rage, and fear, Rachel wonders if some of her uneasiness stems from the wanting to return to her roots. Luckily, Brian is on hand to help her rebound from the first round of panic and low-grade agoraphobia that seems to curse her in the late spring of 2002: “she thought she’d known what it was to feel alone but she hadn’t, she’d had an illusion to keep her company, a belief in a mythical, false god.”
At first Rachel’s voice is tentative and emotionally stifled. She’s often at odds with herself and with the lies Elizabeth told her. Ensconced in Brian’s glamorous Boston apartment, Rachel’s months-long desire to remain indoors intensifies. She begins to suspect Brian’s motives. Is Brian really travelling internationally like he says he is? Does he really love her? Or is he just someone intent to pursue selfish motives? This sense of paranoia prevails throughout the later part of Rachel’s story as she tries to sort through a series of puzzling events that will forever change her perspective. Rachel sees Brian as a confused protagonist. From a reader's perspective, however, he comes across as befuddled and off-center, unlikeable but still capable of eliciting love and compassion. Critically observant Rachel is not unaware that her husband is watching her, perhaps even setting her up as they embark on a cat-and-mouse game to discover the truth, still unsure of the way forward.
Stirring Hitchcockian elements with Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, Lehane writes a good story that makes us turn the pages and bask in the aura of his vulnerable heroine as Rachel attempts to solve the riddle of her father and crack the mystery behind Brian’s strange absences from her life. The writing is beautiful and Rachel’s history is well-told. The suspense remains tight, even when the plot falls apart a bit as it segues into an exercise in gun-slinging that is all-too quick to be absorbed by the exhausted reader. As Rachel deals with the fallout from shooting Brian in a sudden moment of passion, a latent menace accelerates along with feelings of being unforgivably inadequate and worth abandoning. One decisive moment strikes like a sudden blow to the head: the moment when we discover the truth behind Brian’s series of falsehoods.
The narrative descends into a landscape of violence as Rachel’s madness gathers strength, edging closer and closer to Brian’s secrets. Love, marriage, loss, and mourning--Rachel experiences them all while always keeping one eye above the dance. A lot happens in Lehane’s novel. Much like Boston’s rain-drenched setting, water seems a more likely element for Rachel with its cool distances, unexpected undertows and unseen creatures, a vast and unknowable space in an existence that revolves around her mother’s toxicity, her father’s abandonment, and Brian’s duplicity.