I admit I stumbled onto this book only after watching the film adaptation of Mystic River. As good as the movie was (Tim Robbins! Sean Penn! Kevin Bacon! Laurence Fishburne! Clint Eastwood behind the camera!), the book was better.
Heart-rending good. Make-you-angry-while-reading-it good.
Here we have two sets of crimes, an old one perpetrated on a child who managed to grow up, Dave Boyle. And a new one, against the daughter of Dave's childhood friend, Jimmy Markum, a one-time criminal who seems to have gone straight.
As a book is a book, any pair of crimes that exist within a book, however separated, must converge. In this case, through poor Dave Boyle, still so affected decades after the violence committed on him. Dave Boyle blunders along in his life, leaving hints he was involved in the death of Jimmy Markum's daughter, small lies he tells his wife, to Jimmy, to the police. Lies that grow wider the longer people think about them and test them. Lies he told not because he killed his former friend's daughter, but because he committed another crime the same night she went missing.
He looks guilty. He is guilty (of another crime). He can't admit to what he did do...until it's far too late for anyone to believe him.
While we have a feast of interesting characters (not least the particular suburb of Boston where the story takes place), it's Dave's story, his tragedy. If you haven't read the book, please do. This is the kind of novel that should, and did, create a better career for its writer. I hope to see even better things from Dennis Lehane in the future, more standalone novels of this level of accomplishment.