Lehane to launch ‘Boston Noir’ at Book Festival

Fans of Boston’s highest-profile crime writer, Dorchester native Dennis Lehane, are awaiting the launch of his latest work, a celebration that will culminate the upcoming Boston Book Festival on Saturday, Oct. 24.

Lehane, whose best-sellers have been made into major motion pictures, including “Mystic River,” “Gone, Baby, Gone” and the soon-to-be-released “Shutter Island,” has edited and contributed the lead story to the forthcoming anthology, “Boston Noir.”

The book is part of a series of city-specific collections published by New York’s Akashic Books that started with the award-winning “Brooklyn Noir” (2004) and now encompasses 30 odd titles from “Dublin Noir” to “Twin Cities Noir” with a dozen more in the works, including what is likely to be the ne plus ultra, “Haiti Noir.”

“Boston Noir” contains 11 gritty tales, each set in a different Hub neighborhood, with Lehane writing the perceptive introduction and the longest tale in the book, which unfolds on his home turf: “Animal Rescue” concerns the socially inept Bob Saginowki, a part-time Dot bartender whose life takes a sharp turn when he pulls a battered pit-bull puppy out of trash barrel.

Though the tale is labeled as occurring in Dorchester, the word “Dorchester” never appears in the story. Sharp-eyed readers will catch fleeting references to places like “Shawmut” and “Pearl Street.” But just as he substituted “St. Bartholomew’s” for what was clearly St. Margaret’s Church in his McKenzie/Gennaro series, here Lehane disguises his allusions, mentioning “St. Theresa’s parish” and “Cousin Marv’s” watering hole. (There are many more recognizable references to real life places in other stories in the paperback like Don Lee’s Cambridge-based “The Oriental Hair Poets.”)

In his perceptive, rueful introduction, Lehane laments the gentrification of his home town: “As the city continues to lose its old-school parochialism and overt immigrant tribalism, it’s also losing a lot of its character…South Boston is no longer dominated by buzz cuts and bar brawls; these days Charlestown’s only ‘code of silence’ pertains to failing to tell people about a new restaurant on Warren Street.”

This wry, elegiac tone is carried over into “Animal Rescue” in describing the fading world of the central character. “When he’d been a kid, your parish was your country. Everything you needed and needed to know was contained within it. Now that the archdiocese had shuttered half the parishes to pay for the crimes of the kid-diddler priests, Bob couldn’t escape the fact that those days of parish dominion, long dwindling, were now gone.”

Nevertheless, the metaphors of the story betray traces of the old sacramental world-view: “He felt light as a communion wafer”; “He knew that her middle name, thus far, could be Lies of Omission.”
Lehane tapped one-time Dot resident Russ Aborn to write the final piece in the collection: “Turn Speed,” a tale that Lehane says concerns “a carload of knucklehead armed robbers tooling around North Quincy.” John Dufresne’s set-in-Southie “The Cross-Eyed Bear” is a “pitch-black discourse on sin,” indicting another pedophilic padre, which echoes Lehane’s humor-leavened naturalism.

Check out bostonbookfest.org for ticket info on the “Boston Noir” launch festivities at the Boston Public Library’s Rabb Hall, an evening that will feature discussions by Lehane and contributors including Brendan DuBois, Dana Cameron, Jim Fusilli, Lynne Heitman, and Russ Aborn. For more on “Boston Noir,” go to akashicbooks.com.