I must confess... I am not a fan of the hard-boiled American "Private Eye", who relies more on his physical prowess than mental powers to catch criminals. Hercule Poirot and his little grey cells, and the cosy drawing-room British murder mystery where violence almost always takes place backstage, is more to my taste. Given my usual predilections, I might never have discovered Dennis Lehane, had Martin Scorsese not made a movie out of Shutter Island
. I wanted to see the movie; and since I make it a point never to see a mystery movie without reading the book, I read the book-and was hooked.
Lehane writes beautifully (I mean, it is not great literature, but one does not look for it in a murder mystery); Prayers for Rain
will hook you and pull you in from the first page, and the pace never lets up. The breathtaking pace is not built through incessant physical action, but rather through the steadily increasing tempo of dramatic tension. The book is so well structured that succeeding scenes almost naturally flow out of their predecessors. We never feel that somebody is building the narrative, rather it is flowing by itself. The novelist is almost invisible.
The characterisation is also superb. Even the secondary characters are well-delineated. Lehane takes pains to build the world of his story. And in the creation of Wesley Dawe, the author has succeeded in creating a truly evil villain, somebody who will really makes us shudder.
Are there flaws? Sure, for a purist. There are some loose ends which are not tied up cleanly. The "omnipotent" mailman as a literary device is straight out of G.K.Chesterton. Also, to make Wesley's and Scott's plans work, Lehane had to create a lot of co-conspirators, which makes the story rather far-fetched.
However, all these can be ignored. The sheer pace and energy of the narrative will carry you through, bug-eyed and dry-mouthed, till the last page is turned, when the final twist will blow you away. The novel thrills... and what more does a "thriller" require to do?