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by Dennis Lehane
Bantam, September 2006
240 pages
ISBN: 059305752X

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Fans of Dennis Lehane's long fiction, such as MYSTIC RIVER, SHUTTER ISLAND and GONE, BABY GONE are likely to find themselves in unexplored territory with CORONADO, an anthology comprising five short stories and a two-act play which has its roots in one of the stories. Noir is a description that has been aptly applied to Lehane's work in the past and this collection will do nothing to transmogrify that epithet into a whiter shade of pale.

Running Out of Dog is the first story in the book. It tells of Vietnam vet Elgin Bern and his friend Blue, men who grew up together in Eden, South Carolina. The town has a problem with wild dogs and the Mayor, Big Bobby Vargas (whom no one ever addresses as 'Mayor', much to his chagrin) asks Elgin to take advantage of the training provided by Uncle Sam, to sit in a tree and diminish the canine population by judicious use of a rifle. Elgin declines but Blue accepts.

Elgin is currently conducting affairs with two women, one of whom, Jewel Lut, is also the object of Blue's ardour. She is the wife of Perkin Lut. Blue, unattractive, indeed just plain weird, is unlikely ever to attract a woman. Nonetheless, Jewel turns to him as a friend when her husband strikes her in public and she feels she has nowhere to go.

At the same time, the Mayor realises Eden is 'running out of dog' and attempts to bring Blue's unofficial employment to an end. But where, now, will Blue find an outlet for his murderous instincts?

ICU is a Kafkaesque little tale about Daniel, a man who is told by a woman regular in a bar he frequents that a guy is asking about him. He is accosted by someone, presumably the same man, in a car park and given a warning. Then things begin to go wrong in his life. In order to escape, Daniel takes refuge in the ICU of a local hospital, a massive affair that is divided into smaller subdivisions of care. Migrating from one specialist area to another, Daniel, ignorant of his offence, remains in hiding, becoming acquainted with genuine family of patients.

Gone Down To Corpus is an unpleasant number involving footballers wishing to 'kick the shit' out of a fellow footballer who they see as having ruined one of their games. As their target is absent, they set about destroying his home and a jolly good time is had by all until the boy's sister Lurlene arrives and incites them on to greater heights of destruction at the grand home of a friend.

Until Gwen is the basis for the play, Coronado. Bobby has just been released from jail and is met by his father who provides a reception featuring a hooker, Mandy. It soon becomes evident that the motivation for his father's generosity is that Bobby, gaoled for his part in a diamond robbery inspired by his father, hid what remained of their loot.

Bobby claims he can't remember where he hid the gem as he was shot and the shock destroyed parts of his memory. Bobby is determined to find his former girlfriend Gwen, whom he expected would wait until his release from prison. His father's explanation as to the probable fate of Gwen doesn't satisfy Bobby -- but then, neither does Bobby's explanation of the missing diamond satisfy his father.

Coronado, the play, was, Lehane tells the reader, in response to his actor brother Gerry's need to relinquish his 'nice guy' image and play the part of the worst villain Dennis could imagine. The writer had already created the villain: Bobby's father, in Until Gwen. Despite his dark side, Bobby's father could well be a charming drinking companion in a bar. Characters other than those in the short story forced their way into the author's consciousness and the play was written around an expanded tale of people attempting to reach the unreachable Coronado, the place where they might all be happy.

As the play, set in a bar, progresses, it appears the different characters may represent aspects in time of only a few people.

For those readers unfamiliar with Lehane's work prior to his novels, this volume will be a welcome addition to their knowledge. Each unit is a polished little gem demonstrating Lehane's mastery of characterisation and atmosphere. The layers of story and convolutions of character are beautifully unrolled in each dark, compact, pessimistic establishing of the present and bleak prediction of the future.

Reviewed by Denise Pickles, August 2006

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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