Margaret Murphy’s Xmas Recommendation: Mystic River

It was the night before Christmas and all through the house, nothing was stirring except for Murder Room Book of the Month author Margaret Murphy writing her Christmas recommendation.

Dennis Lehane has it all: elegant prose and gripping action; he can create a memorable character with a few strokes of the pen; his dialogue can make you laugh out loud, or gasp at its audacity. Or it can flood you with emotion that grabs you by the throat and will not let go.

Mystic River sees Lehane at the height of his powers, and this is the novel I am recommending as my Christmas read. It’s not particularly Christmassy, though there is plenty of drinking in it . . . and in the dog days between Christmas and New Year, if you’re feeling a little flat, or you need to escape, pick up Mystic River – I guarantee you will be spellbound.

Lehane knows about violence. He understands what it does both to those who fall victim to it and those who investigate it. Added to this, he has the skill and courage to make his readers feel along with the victims; Lehane never confuses sentiment with sentimentality. He builds tension till it crackles like static before a storm, yet you never get the sense that he is using writerly strategies or tricks. In Lehane’s writing the aftermath of violent crime doesn’t merely extend for weeks or months, but for an entire lifetime. He writes about loving families and destructive families, and the effect that the one can have on the other.

He is also a master of suspense: there is a scene in Mystic River which still haunts me fourteen years after I first read it. I won’t describe it – but let me take you through what I felt as I read it: My initial thoughts were, What the hell is going on? What are you . . .? Then: I have a bad feeling about this. A really bad feeling. You shouldn’t be doing this. Then: Go home, you idiot – go home! Get out of there, go home, lock your door and call the cops. Then: Ah no . . . stop. Don’t. Just stop. Stop. Don’t do it . . . Then: a blank. A void.

Some would call it catharsis. I call it brilliant writing.

That scene inspired a chapter in my own novel, Now You See Me. I am told it is one of the most shocking things I’ve ever written. I take that as a compliment.


Margaret Murphy has six titles published by The Murder Room, inluding December’s Book of the Month Now You See Me.  She also writes forensic thrillers as A. D. Garrett with the latest novel in the DI Kate Simms series, Believe No One, out nowVisit Margaret’s website for more information or follow her on Facebook and Twitter.