Dennis Lehane territory is typically populated by blue-collar guys. If they commit crimes, it's usually with a baseball bat or gun; if they don't, they're likely cops. In either case, Lehane's fiction has a vacuum cleaner effect — that is, it sucks you in almost from Page 1.
In many ways, his latest, "Since We Fell," is a dramatic departure. Oh, it still sucks you in. There's a murder on the first page. But the killer and central character is a woman, Rachel Childs. And early on, it seems this will prove less a vintage Lehane crime novel than a compelling psychological study of a troubled and flawed woman.
Rachel grew up emotionally scarred by her single mom, a famous author/psychologist who refused to tell her who her father is and kept reminding her that there is no such thing as happiness — it is "an hourglass with a crack in it."
Still, despite the detritus her toxic mom leaves, Rachel becomes a success, first as a print journalist and then as a TV reporter.
But covering the aftermath of the 2010 Haitian earthquake, she has an on-air meltdown. It ends her career, her marriage and even her life as she knew it. Rachel becomes a hermit, rarely venturing out.
If there is a constant in her life, it is Brian Delacroix. The scion of a wealthy Canadian lumber family, he'd worked briefly as a private eye. They met when Rachel hired him to search for her father.
Brian occasionally reappears in her life: bumping into her on the street or sending her an encouraging e-mail: "You don't deserve to be punished for being human while surrounded by inhumanity."
Ultimately and not surprisingly, they become a couple. It's hard not to root for them — slowly, Brian works to cure her agoraphobia. But something is not right. Brian is not who he appears to be, and roughly the second half of the book takes on conspiracy overtones.
Because Lehane has so successfully and sympathetically drawn Rachel, readers are likely to be vested in her. I was. And as Rachel investigates Brian, coming out of her shell in the process, the book becomes as compelling as anything Lehane has written in the past.
That is, until the story starts to unravel. To explain how and why it disappoints would reveal too much of the plot. Everything turns on Brian accurately anticipating what everyone will do, as unlikely as some actions may be.
"Since We Fell" is a worthy effort, but ultimately it is not up to Lehane's standards.
Curt Schleier is a critic in New Jersey.