Thursday 4 May 2023

A SHOTS Magazine Question Exchange with Dennis Lehane


Shots Magazine were delighted that Dennis Lehane agreed to answer a few questions following our recent review of his novel SMALL MERCIES, which has been released to great acclaim from within the industry.

Shots Magazine have been long-term readers of the work of Dennis Lehane, discussing his work on his visits to the UK, promoting his work – and as we stated in our review of SMALL MERCIES – “I postulate that this is his most vibrant work, a truly exciting, engaging and enraging narrative. There is an echo of Mystic River, the beautiful [though dark] novel that was shortlisted in 2010, as the greatest crime-novel of the decade via Deadly Pleasures Magazine’s Barry Award [narrowly missing out to Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo at Bouchercon 2010 hosted in San Francisco]”

Early Review copies of SMALL MERCIES were accompanied by a letter from the author, giving some context to this extraordinary novel -

Dear Reader,

At the end of summer 1974, when I was nine years old, we were heading home through South Boston to Dorchester when my father took an errant turn and we found ourselves on Broadway, Southie’s main drag, as an anti-busing protest consumed the neighbourhood. It was night, and flaming effigies of the most well-known supporters of school desegregation— Garrity, Kennedy, Taylor—hung from street poles, the yellow, blue, and red reflections of the flames sluicing up the windshield and along the windows of my father’s Chevy. The mob chanted slogans—some violent and racist, some not—and my father’s car was rocked and buffeted as it crept through the ocean of furious bodies. No one seemed to notice us, and yet I’d never been so terrified in my life.

This is a novel about those times. And maybe about the times we live in now. It’s about a mother’s search for her daughter in those crazed last days of summer in South Boston in 1974, when a first day of school unlike any first day of school in the city’s history loomed ahead and felt—depending on which side of the issue one stood—like either the culmination of a long-delayed promise or the punch line to joke no one found funny. It’s a story that finally puts into words, I hope, what a terrified nine-year-old tried to make sense of when his father took a wrong turn straight into the heart of a community’s rage.

Sounds strange to say, but I hope you enjoy it.

Dennis Lehane, Los Angeles, CA, July 27, 2022

After reading SMALL MERCIES, we had a few questions for the author [which despite his busy schedule] Dennis Lehane replied -

Ali Karim: Dennis, welcome to Great Britain’s Shots Magazine

Dennis Lehane: Good to be here.

Ali: You have been very loyal to your Literary Agent Ann Rittenberg and your Film Agent Amy Schiffman from the ‘get go’. Can you tell us a little about how these professional relationships came about, and how they matured over the years [with perhaps an anecdote or two], and why they remain so strong?

Dennis: Ann was the first agent who believed in me, when I was 26, and she fought the good fight for two years to get my first novel accepted by a reputable publisher. We’ve been together 31 years now. I never saw any reason not to be loyal. Amy was my second book-to-film agent. The first was not a good fit. After I parted ways with him, I spent two years searching out an agent who had the kind of integrity and loyalty I value. I like to work with people whose word is their bond. People who can be trusted. And people who will put up with—and even support--my resistance to “branding” or pumping out a book a year. Ann and Amy have done that.

Ali: I pictured James ‘Whitey’ Bulger and the Winter Hill Gang of 1970s Boston, when I imagined your gangland boss Marty Butler and his henchmen in Small Mercies. Would my imagination be aligned correctly on his influence upon many crime thrillers?

Dennis: I avoided writing about him for many years, despite dozens of offers, because I saw nothing “Shakespearean” in the story of him and his politician brother, Billy. Whitey was an informant for the FBI who got innocent working men killed and flooded the housing projects where his mother lived with heroin. He enslaved an entire generation of “his people” to drug addiction. Oh, and he was a virulent racist. To the degree that Marty Butler and his crew may (or may not) resemble Whitey Bulger and his crew, it’s in the pure heartless amorality, the complete lack of a conscience, the standing for nothing but your own unquenchable greed.

Ali: For me, your novels are all about Character. You delineate them in the grey light of reality; warts and all. Two of my favourite characters in terms of how you have written them, are Luther Laurence [from THE GIVEN DAY] and Rachel Childs [from SINCE WE FELL]. Could you tell us a little about their genesis and how they changed over the course of those novels [because they both embarked upon journeys]?

Dennis: Luther was never supposed to stick around The Given Day. He was meant to show up in the first chapter and walk back out again. But he refused to leave the stage. (Bobby Coyne did the exact same thing in Small Mercies.) Outside of Luther being African American and born about 75 years before me, we had a lot in common, he and I. He reminds me a lot of me in my 20s—restless and constantly searching for indefinable things. He values nothing so much as movement and it leads him into a lot of trouble. But he’s a very good man (or boy-trying-to-be-a-man depending on your perspective), and I loved his journey to become a father, essentially, and a husband worthy of his woman’s love. Rachel is a lost soul, desperately flailing about to understand an abandonment that happened before she can really remember it. That’s something she shares with Luther, actually; both of them were abandoned by their fathers as babies. In the end, they each have to make peace with the idea that they, themselves, have to be enough. Because no one’s coming to the rescue. 


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