In the first 260 pages of his new novel, Since We Fell, Dennis Lehane performs an impressive balancing act. He writes both an engaging “read” — the sort of book you’d want to have on a long airplane flight — and a satisfying character study of a flawed but appealing protagonist. More than half of the book is that rare creature: A successful literary thriller.
Rachel Childs’s mother, Elizabeth Childs, “who never married, wrote a famous book on how to stay married.” In addition to being a lifelong hypocrite, she is almost psychotically overprotective, especially when it comes to telling Rachel who her father is. Elizabeth’s death early in the book triggers Rachel’s search for her father and thrusts her into an increasingly treacherous world. A television reporter, Rachel is sent to cover the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, and a horrific encounter in a refugee camp sends her spiraling into agoraphobia. By the time she meets her second husband, Brian, she is barely coping at all.
Lehane is the author of Mystic River and Shutter Island, two novels that became excellent films, and the final 150 pages of Since We Fell read like the treatment for a movie. Granted, as Rachel realizes that just about everything she’s taken for granted is a lie, the pace speeds up noticeably. Rachel finally has a concrete, specific problem to solve, and she does so with the flair of a superheroine. However, as she overcomes one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after another (with the help of an unlikely partner), the novel is forced to shed some of the realism that initially made Rachel so sympathetic and believable. That’s not to say Since We Fell isn’t worth reading; it is. But this very good novel doesn’t quite live up to its promise.