writer that I consider one of the greatest living novelists working
the crime fiction genre is Dennis Lehane. He needs little
introduction except to say if you’ve not read his work, you are
missing some of the most remarkable books to grace the genre.
On a rare visit to
London, Shots Ezine managed to get Lehane to discuss his work with
Shots’ Assistant Editor, Ali Karim.
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Ali Dennis, your Patrick and Angie PI series have become very
successful and in fact launched your writing career [with
Drink Before The War]. Since then you’ve written only
standalones such as
River, Shutter Island and now your historical opus
The Given Day. Did you get nervous when you first jumped out
of your comfort zone of that very successful PI series?
DL I got a little nervous after a point sort of like that
Chinese proverb/warning ‘be careful what you wish for’ kind
of thing. At first I was a little excited to get back to the
third-person narrative with Mystic River and I felt that
‘wow, I can do anything’. Then months later I thought ‘oh shit’ as I
realised I had to make choices which you don’t get to do with a
first person perspective. So it was strange at first with the
standalones, but then I soon found a comfort zone in third person.
Ali I heard one of your earlier novels Darkness, Take My
Hand was originally titled
Cold, Cold Heart but you changed it because of a novel with
the same title by James Elliott [a pen name of
J.C. Pollock]. Have you had other changes of title?
DL Yes, well spotted. I’ve had a few title changes, for
instance Shutter Island I was originally going to title
The Barrens, then I found out that
Joyce Carol Oates had a book out with the same title.
Given Day was originally going to be
A Country at Dawn, but I decided that title sounded a little
pretentious, however I discovered that The Given Day has been
published in several countries under that title, such as France; my
French publishers liked that title.
Ali It has now been widely reported on the internet that you
are returning to the Patrick and Angie PI series – why the return?
DL I don’t want to say too much at this stage, just ‘Hey,
they’re back’ and that’s it. In fact I won’t say any more until the
book comes out.
Ali I’m still going to pump you … Boston seems to be a
familiar location as a backdrop for your work, so will Patrick and
Angie operate in Boston in the new book?
DL <Laughing> To answer your question, Yes! …Yes, they will, I
took them once to Florida in Sacred, that was fun, but as a
reader I always hated reading a PI novel when the PI and sidekick
head to LA to hunt down a missing actress – this was because all the
writers were out in LA working on movie deals. So I decided that
I’ll never do that, hence Patrick and Angie will operate on their
home turf of Boston. OK, if there was a reason to take them to
Dublin, I’d do that. No West Coast travel though.
Ali So will the new Patrick and Angie novel carry on
immediately after the events of
for Rain? Or will some time have elapsed? It is a decade
since their last novel appeared.
DL I know there will be gap, but it won’t be a full ten years;
I don’t see them in a pre-9/11 America. A lot has happened in the
last decade, and it would be ridiculous to take them back in time if
you follow me.
Dennis Lehane, Selina Walker and Tess
Ali Were you aware of the issues with the disappearance of
the British infant
Madeleine McCann in Portugal when the film version of your novel
Gone, Baby, Gone was released in the US? It had a delayed
release in the UK as the actress who played the missing girl was
also called Madeline
DL And, hey, the actress Madeline O’Brien
bore a very striking resemblance to the missing Madeleine McCann. I
remember having a conversation with Ben [Affleck] about it at the
time. We were on the same page – we totally understood that the
film’s release at that time could be potentially hurtful so why do
it? We understood – it didn’t feel like censorship, it was in both
our opinions and expressions of sensitivity.
Ali There’s been a five year gap
between the release of
Shutter Island. I’ve read that you had a bad experience
finishing Prayers for Rain and you vowed never to have to
work to a tight deadline again.
DL The issue with Prayers for Rain was that I released
the book from my hands faster than I normally release a manuscript.
The book was written blindingly fast – but that’s not the issue
here, as I have written books fast before – but I was never quite
satisfied with the end result. I wished I had more time. I don’t
mean taking three years, five years, ten years or whatever, it’s
taking whatever time the book needs, and I know instinctively when a
book needs more time to finish it. As an example The Given Day
was completed a whole year before I sent it in, because I wanted –
actually needed – the time. No one saw it until I felt it was ready.
Ali And there’s more as I’ve heard The Given Day is
the start of a trilogy?
DL Possibly a trilogy… <laughing> … possibly a deca-olgy … at
this stage I don’t know …
Ali … I understand … Now, onto one of my favourite novels of
all time: Shutter Island and the film Ashcliffe.
DL Actually, Ashcliffe was just the working title when
they were filming but the finished film will be titled
Ali Tell us why you never got involved in screenwriting now
that three of your novels will appear on the big screen?
DL I’m not a good adapter, and certainly not a qualified
adapter of my own work. I guess I feel it would be like a surgeon
operating on his own child. Could I write an original screenplay?
Maybe. Could I adapt someone else’s work for the screen? Maybe. But
the last person who should be entrusted in adapting one of my novels
Ali How did you feel when you heard
Martin Scorcese was going to be associated with Shutter
DL I was totally bummed out … <laughing> … what can I say? It
was embarrassing. I go from having home runs with my first two
filmed novels [Mystic
Gone, Baby, Gone], and then I get a call saying ‘the world’s
greatest film director wants to direct one of your books’. I felt …
humbled, embarrassed, confused … I was so shocked that I didn’t tell
anyone. I just feel ridiculous having such amazing good fortune …
Ali You first opened up your
website many years
DL Sorry to correct you, Ali, but I did not, that was my
publisher’s website. I’d like to say that the way I chose to engage,
or not engage, with that world of blogs, websites, etc, believe it
or not is a way to maintain my creative edge. It allows me to be the
man who writes books, gets home and his wife says, ‘There’s dog-shit
in the back yard, go clean it up’ without me saying, ‘Hey, I’m
Dennis Lehane!’ So my only way to keep that part of myself stable is
to not engage that world at all. Now that’s not saying that’s the
way it should be done! It’s purely my way, and that’s why I don’t
engage that world. But someone’s set up a
facebook page in my name; I don’t know who the guy is, but I
hope people don’t think that’s me. I just can’t deal with it.
Ali And do still spilt your time between Boston and Florida?
DL Yes, my wife has a practice in Florida, so I can’t look her
in the eye and say I can only write in Boston, so I have the tough
job of having to spend time in Florida…
Ali One thing that intrigues me is the difference in
book-jacket design between your US publishers [William Morrow] and
your UK publishers [Transworld]. Would you care to comment?
DL Unless one is particularly heinous, which has rarely
happened to me, I assume each international publisher knows its
people and country and so I can’t presume to tell them what they
should have on the covers. I’ve had issues with perhaps only four
books, globally, in my time and when that happened I’d say, ‘Hey,
I’m not keen on that cover, but you know your market so go with it.’
But that’s rare, most of the time it’s me saying ‘Fine by me’. Some
of my British covers are gorgeous – as are some of my French,
German, Japanese covers – some are not but what am I going to tell
my Japanese publishers? Can I say, ‘Hey, don’t do that cover, I
don’t like it’? <laughing> I just don’t know the market, all I do is
hope for the best.
Considering the path of your career from PI series, to standalone
crime thriller [Mystic River], to gothic noir [Shutter
Island] and now your literary opus [The Given Day], can
you see a ‘game plan’ to your writing?
DL I think the one commonality is that they are all urban
novels; they are concerned with the machinery or soul of the city,
if you will. So in the end that’s the canvas I work – the urban
novel, with the exception, of course, with a trip to the gothic
world of Shutter Island.
Ali And what a tremendous gothic novel, Shutter Island is; in
my opinion it will be one of the novels that you will always be
remembered for. It is magnificent in terms of its ambition, its
story and of course the gothic dread that infuses the narrative.
DL Wow, thank you, thank you. I go by the dictum that you
write the book you want to read. If you have that sort of love and
passion for a book, then I think it will translate and people will
Ali Your Patrick and Angie fanbase is solid, even though they
clamour for your PI series, but have they followed your literary
path with Shutter Island, or the more recent The Given Day?
What is your take on your fans and readers?
DL It’s simple, it’s such an honour to have loyal readers. I
always remember every day that my success is due to my readers; I
have my house due to my readers; I have everything due to my
readers; so I have no issues with my fans and readers, they make my
Ali And finally, what do you make of his dreadful economic
crisis affecting us all, including publishing?
DL I think we deregulated a bunch of regulations that were put
in place for a very good reason in the great depression. We fucked
it all up,
and the poor are suffering as the poor always do. I couldn’t be more
serious about this – people should be going to jail, it’s
disgusting, I don’t know what else to say. Another thread I write
about in my work is this eternal war between the haves and the have
nots. And you see that war in clear focus right now. I just find the
economic situation revolting.
Ali Dennis, thank you for your time and enjoy the rest of
your trip in London.
DL And thank you for some great questions and your support
over the years.
Patrick Kenzie and
Angela Gennaro PI Series
A Drink before the War
Darkness, Take My Hand
Gone, Baby, Gone
Prayers for Rain
The Given Day
Short Story Collection
Shots Ezine would like to thank Patsy Irwin for organising this
interview and Borders Charing Cross Road for providing an
An edited version of this interview first appeared at