Patrick Kenzie is talking to Dennis Lehane again.
Longtime fans of Lehane's fiction know that his first five novels, published between 1994 and 1999, focused on Boston private investigator Kenzie and his partner (professional and sometimes personal) Angela Gennaro. The books — A Drink Before the War; Darkness, Take My Hand; Sacred; Gone, Baby, Gone; and Prayers for Rain — were bestsellers and made Lehane's name as one of the best crime novelists writing today.
But then he stopped writing the series and turned to other books, including Mystic River and Shutter Island. "If there was no journey left for (Kenzie) to go on, what was the point?" he says.
At a downtown St. Petersburg restaurant recently, Lehane, who has a home nearby, dissected and ate a filet mignon sandwich as he chatted about his next book.
Last year, around the time his most recent book, the sweeping historical novel The Given Day, was published, Lehane told me that Kenzie and Gennaro "have just stopped talking to me." Despite fans' entreaties to bring them back, he didn't expect to write about them again.
That changed after he finished touring for The Given Day. "I was in a cab leaving an airport, I don't even remember which one, and he started talking to me."
Lehane wasn't hearing voices, exactly, but thinking about a story in Kenzie's narrative voice. "It's my voice, but tweaked," he says. "He has better highway lines, the things you think of to say when you're driving away."
The film version of Gone, Baby, Gone, released in 2007, played some role, Lehane says. "I'm still hearing the debate about the ending" of both book and movie, in which Kenzie makes a heart-wrenching and difficult decision. "It's one of those situations where you're right but you're wrong, or you're wrong but you're right."
That unresolved ambiguity — which he fully intended — led him into thinking about the new book, which returns to Kenzie and Gennaro 10 years later. "I wanted to go back, but not in a repetitive way. They're at a very different point in their lives."
The catalyst for the story: Amanda McCready, the little girl who was kidnapped in Gone, Baby, Gone, is a teenager and missing again. "I bring back her wonderful mother," Lehane says drily, "a lot of the main players."
Lehane says, "It shocked me to realize I'd left those books just before the world changed utterly. I don't just mean 9/11 but the widespread use of the Internet, cell phones, all the technology we take for granted."
All of those things have an impact on writing crime fiction: "It's very hard to manufacture suspense in the age of the cell phone."
But the book is nearly done, even though Lehane's own life has been changed, too — he and his wife, Angela Bernardo, welcomed a daughter, their first child, in July.
Lehane is looking forward to the February release of the film version of Shutter Island, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and directed by Martin Scorsese. "It's an amazing work of art."
His new book doesn't have a title yet, but Lehane expects it to be published next summer or fall. "I think I've been able to revisit without retreading."
Colette Bancroft can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8435. She blogs on Critics Circle at blogs.tampabay.com/arts.