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The fifth installment of Dennis Lehane's mystery-crime series, Prayers For Rain, begins like the others: an italicized scene-setter focusing on a parent and a child. What makes the opening of Prayers for Rain so different is that our hero, private investigator Patrick Kenzie is the father, and his son is an imagined future boy fearing death. From this tense, surreal beginning, Lehane enters into a novel packed with parents, children, and things far worse than death.

The story proper begins with a woman named Karen Nichols, coming to Kenzie for help with a stalker named Cody Falk. Kenzie enlists the aid of his best friend Bubba Rugowski - a militia expert and borderline psychotic - to help rough up Falk a little. Kenzie assumes then that his work is done, and he can move on. But the end is far from near. A few months later, Karen Nichols kills herself, and Kenzie becomes obsessed with finding out why.

The characters here - Bubba, Kenzie, and Kenzie's returning ex-partner Angela Gennaro - go to hell and stay there as the simple stalking case becomes deadlier and more sinister at every turn. Karen Nichols's family don't seem to care that she's dead, her boyfriend was recently rendered comatose in what may not have been an accident, and several witnesses recall seeing a mysterious blonde man with Karen at several times in the months before her death. The blonde man eventually becomes the key figure in Prayers, and the most dangerous. For he is not interested in mere murder. His game is in the destruction of the soul. The only way Kenzie can win is by beating the blonde man at his own game, at whatever cost.

Most of Lehane's Patrick Kenzie novels have been high on crime but low on mystery. Prayers For Rain marks Lehane's first out-and-out mystery (with a good dose of guns and violence thrown in for fun) since 1995's A Drink Before the War. As with his other novels, Lehane mixes darkness with light, keeping his action, humorous, and contemplative scenes in constant balance. With a slam-bang climax and shocker of an ending, Lehane again leaves you with the feeling only the best writers can: wanting more, and right now.