When news breaks about the release date of a new Dennis Lehane novel, a buzz justifiably begins to build within the crime fiction community. Things followed that existing standard when Mr. Lehane’s latest novel, Since We Fell, was announced at the beginning of the year. What is different, however, is that Since We Fell is anything but a typical Dennis Lehane book. Always one to explore the crevices of what crime fiction can be, with this new novel he ventures into some uncharted territory – at least for him.
Since We Fell falls firmly into the category of domestic suspense. While this is a sub-genre of crime fiction that has not been largely tapped by male writers, books like Ben McPherson’s A Line of Blood and the works of Linwood Barclay (and to some extent Harlan Coben) have shown that male writers do possess an interesting eye when examining the stresses of family life on the everyday citizen. How Dennis Lehane’s legion of existing fans react to Since We Fell remains to be seen, but there is little doubt that this will bring new readers into the Lehane fold. As different as Since We Fell is from his previous work, it is still a hell of a novel – featuring characters of depth and understanding, a plot that simmers before reaching a full boil, and impeccable writing.
Since We Fell centers around Rachel Childs, a journalist who has had anything but an easy life. The first quarter of the book spends time allowing the reader to understand Rachel’s past. Details from her childhood, first marriage, and journalistic career are explained, allowing readers to bond with this complex character. Readers learn that Rachel was never able to discover who her father was and now that her mother is dead, this is a weight that hangs over her. The stress of this, along with some trauma during her coverage of the Haiti earthquake have cause Rachel to suffer from extreme anxiety – to the point that at times she fears even leaving her house.
This set up leads to the second larger section of the novel, where Dennis Lehane recounts the relationship between Rachel and her second husband Brian (the man she hired to help find her father). It is in this section of the book that Rachel’s world begins to crumble further. What seems so perfect on the surface may not actually be so. During one of her rare trips out of the house, Rachel observes Brian doing something that makes no sense to her and calls into question everything she knows about him. This sets up the third part of the novel, where Rachel must overcome her own issues in an effort to discover the truth about the people who populate her insular life.
It is worth noting here that the final quarter of the novel transitions nicely into a more standard Dennis Lehane style novel – if such a beast exists. Readers who may be bored with the earlier sections will find a payoff in the end. This is not to imply that the early sections are boring, simply that the psychological and domestic suspense nature of those chapters require a slower and more character-intensive writing style. Readers, like myself, who love that style will find it impossible to set the book aside, while those looking for more gritty and action-oriented storytelling my lose interest.
Through it all, Since We Fell features the strong writing chops readers have come to expect from Dennis Lehane. When Rachel has one of her many panic attacks, readers will feel themselves struggling to catch their breath. As he has always done, Lehane manages to weave in examination of societal ills into the plot in subtle but effective ways. And in a nod to novels of the past, the author chooses to title each chapter – whetting the reader’s excitement with hints of what is to come in the following pages.
In the end, readers should not be put off by knowledge that Since We Fell is a bit different from other books in the Dennis Lehane oeuvre. Allow him to take you on this journey, he is an exceptional storyteller and readers might just discover that domestic suspense speaks to them in ways they never imagined.
Disclaimer: A print galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the publisher. No review was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.