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Dennis Lehane's no member of the Elmore Leonard school of crime fiction, where the violence is delivered with a rim shot and a wink. No breezy nonchalance softens his grim outlook. And no Miami sunshine washes the streets of Boston's Dorchester neighborhood, the racially mixed strip of real estate that separates the twin drug-and-gun ruins of black Roxbury and Irish South Boston and that serves as the setting for his Patrick Kenzie/Angela Gennaro series of private eye novels. His first, 1994's A Drink Before the War, won the Shamus Award for best first novel probably because it was just like every other book on the mystery shelf--a first-person narrative of brittle banter, high school sociology, and self-conscious sexual tension. It entertained, and the fifth book in the series, Prayers for Rain, delivered a truly wicked villain, but by then it looked like Lehane was going to continue churning out this formulaic mush until he was as financially rich and artistically impoverished as Robert B. Parker. Then in 2001 he put his hard-boiled duo on hold and published Mystic River. Writing in the third person and shifting among a number of points of view, he made the fictional Boston neighborhood of East Buckingham a living, breathing stage for this tale of three old friends circling each other in a dance of repression, murder, revenge, and salvation. His sex scenes are still way too embarrassing to read out loud, but that's to be expected from a good Irish Catholic boy more at home taking a punch in the face. He'll read from and discuss his upcoming novel, Shutter Island (due out in April from HarperCollins), as part of Columbia College's Story Week Festival of Writers. Columbia College Residence Hall, 731 S. Plymouth Court, 312-344-7611. Tuesday, March 25, 2 PM. Following the reading, at 3:30, he'll participate in a panel on publishing. See the sidebar for more information.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Sigrid Estrada.

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