Dennis Lehane - Pushing Genre Limits Since 1994

By Katie Behrens. Aug 2, 2014. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Movie Tie-Ins, Mystery, Suspense & Crime

There are some writers who live and breathe their hometown. Dennis Lehane is such a writer, whose love affair with the seedy underbelly of Boston comes through almost every time he puts pen to paper. Whether working in novels, screenplays, or television episodes, Lehane stands out as a dynamic storyteller whose talents rise above specific genres or mediums.


The youngest son of Irish immigrants, Lehane spent his childhood days as a latchkey kid in the neighborhood of Dorchester, Boston. He was surrounded by Irish aunts and uncles who gathered every weekend to tell stories about the old days. Lehane was in college when he wrote the first draft of A Drink Before the War. The book led to a series of successful crime fiction novels featuring private eye duo Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro; naturally, the books were set in Dorchester, Massachusetts.

After writing mostly crime fiction for several years, Lehane stretched his writing muscles with Shutter Island and Mystic Rivernovels that explore elements of mystery, tragedy, and history. The Boston Police Strike of 1919 inspired Lehane to diverge from crime fiction even further.This single, historic event fascinated him for over a year before he got down to the business of writing his own historical fiction novel. The Given Day is a massive, 700-page exploration of urban poverty, immigration, and violence in 1919 Boston.

Some critics struggle with Lehane and how he refuses to fit into a neat box. But as the author said in a brief 2008 interview on Goodreads, “I really consider myself sort of a bastard influence between urban novelist, pulp fiction, and high-end literary fiction. Somehow all of that collates to create me, I guess.”


Lehane isn’t only crossing genres, however; he’s also crossing writing mediums. His stand-alone novels Shutter Island and Mystic River were adapted into movies by Martin Scorsese and Clint Eastwood, respectively. Matt Damon directed an adaptation for Gone, Baby, Gone, one of Lehane’s Kenzie & Gennaro novels. Lehane finally got a chance to write his own screenplay for the 2014 movie The Drop, which features the last performance of the late James Gandolfini. In recent years, the author was also invited to write episodes for the popular HBO series, The Wire, and to serve as a writer and creative consultant for Boardwalk Empire, another HBO show. Lehane got the call for Boardwalk Empire after publishing another historical fiction novel, Live By Night, set in 1920’s-era bootlegging Boston. To top it all off, Lehane has even appeared onscreen as himself in the ABC series Castle, where the fictional Richard Castle played poker with some crime fiction writer buddies.

Even with such a diverse and successful writing career, Lehane’s daily work is often with his creative writing students. He has taught classes at Harvard University and is now a professor and writer-in-residence at Eckerd College, Florida. Lehane is devoted to the depth of written language, its power to communicate characters and ideas between authors and readers, and the music of prose. How can the limits of genre and medium stand against passion like that?

Browse Dennis Lehane Books

Katie Behrens
Avid consumer of books, media, and general nerdery. Ready to dig deep into a story and match the right books with the right readers.


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