Dennis Lehane likes to hurt children. It's kind of his thing. I've read most of his books now and so far, every single one contains at least allegations of child abuse. His novels are rife with child-rape, kidnapping, child-murder, and molestation. It's a character in his stories the way that New York City is a character Woody Allen's 70s pictures. He seems totally unable to write a story without it.
Of course, doing something over and over again is a pretty decent way to get good at something. And Lehane has definitely gotten better. He's pretty much always been a top notch plot man, but his characters have seldom come across as more than flimsy. They're almost caricatures of cliches. His dialog and attempts at humor have caused more trouble in his novels than they've helped. Usually.
In Mystic River, everything came together. He finally wrote a whole group of compelling characters that have depth you can feel when they're in the room. The plot lines are solid (an area Lehane seldom makes mistakes) and the overarching sadness of the story and everyone in it seeps into you as you read. It overtakes you and that's what good stories are supposed to do.
Dennis Lehane has spent his entire career trying to write this book and he finally succeeded. Good for him. What's next?