The premise of the books is fairly simple: Patrick Kenzie is a wise-ass private detective working out of the tough, working-class Boston neighborhood of Dorchester. Always by his side is his faithful partner, the beautiful Angie Gennaro. Though they start out as Platonic Life Partners, Patrick (in his narration) makes no secret of the fact that he's been in love with Angie since they were both teenagers. With their small, struggling detective agency, Patrick and Angie take it upon themselves to help every poor, downtrodden Bostonian who comes their way. Along the way, they end up tangling with everybody from drug lords, to serial killers, to Corrupt Corporate Executives to crazed stalkers, standing up for what's right and occasionally leaving corpses in their wake. Despite the loads of horror that they have to deal with, Patrick and Angie manage to keep their sanity through the Power of Friendship, both with each other and with the other residents of their close-nit neighborhood. Naturally, they end up falling in love with each other along the way.
With a heavy dose of realism and occasional social commentary, the series manages to subvert many cliches of detective fiction, and it's considered a prime example of "Neo Noir". In particular, it strongly averts Status Quo Is God, with many deliberate arcs over the course of six books.
The books published so far:
A Drink Before the War - Patrick and Angie take an assignment from a powerful politician to find some "important documents" that were stolen by his cleaning lady. In their search, they end up stumbling into the middle of a vicious gang war that threatens to tear their neighborhood apart.
Darkness, Take My Hand - Patrick and Angie spring into action when a long-dormant serial killer apparently resumes his killing spree. A pretty impressive feat, considering he's been behind bars for over fifteen years...
Sacred - Patrick and Angie agree to help a wealthy recluse find his missing daughter. Patrick also looks into the disappearance of his old friend/mentor, who vanished while investigating the same case. Features a brief departure from the series's typical Boston setting, with the action temporarily relocating to Tampa, Florida.
Gone Baby Gone - Patrick and Angie get pulled into the fray when a little girl's mysterious disappearance causes a huge stir in the neighborhood. Along the way, Patrick is forced to make the hardest choice of his career.
Prayers for Rain - After splitting up in the fourth book, Patrick and Angie reunite to take down a psychopathic stalker.
Moonlight Mile - Picking up eleven years after the last book, Patrick and Angie are a married couple with a daughter. They get pulled into one more crazy case when a teenage Amanda McCready (the vanished girl from the fourth book) vanishes again.
Tropes present in the series:
Absurdly Youthful Mother: In Moonlight Milewhen they finally find the now 16 year old Amanda she has a baby with her, and though she claims that the baby is hers and that she gave birth to her Patrick doesn't buy it. It turns out that the baby is actually her friend Sophie's, who actually does qualify for this trope since she's the same age.
Brian Corliss from Moonlight Mile proves to be such a Jerkass to his daughter Sophie that Angie has to excuse herself to avoid punching him in the face. After his wife divorced him he only started fighting for his daughter Sophie's custody when he found out his ex-wife was living with another woman, and wore shirts with homophobic slogans around them, and then the day her mother died of stomach cancer had the gall to show up outside the hospital, and exploited the fact that (then) New Hampshire law had no protections for same-sex spouses over children to win custody over her. Once Sophie lives with him he then tries to take complete control of her life, including what she eats, and threatens to throw her out of the house if she doesn't lose ten pounds. It's no wonder she winds up running away.
Action Girl: Angie. Not as blatant as most examples, but Patrick makes it clear that she’s a hell of a lot more formidable in a fight than he is.
Always Someone Better: Jay Becker, introduced in the third book. He's every bit as skilled as Patrick, but he's slicker and much more experienced, and he has a lucrative job with a big-time detective agency.
Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Over the course of the series, Bubba stockpiles loads of high explosives and combat weaponry, and he kills, maims, and/or tortures scads of Patrick's enemies. When he gets sent to jail at the beginning of the third book, it's for having an unregistered handgun.
I decided, I do not want the people [in my books] to be veterans of any war I don't want them to know some sort of obscure Eastern kung fu philosophy that'll help them whoop ass. I want them to be regular, vulnerable people. They're not braver than most people, but they stick with it.
Being Tortured Makes You Evil: Evandro Arujo in the second book goes into prison a harmless petty thief, but his experience inside leaves him so thoroughly Ax-Crazy that he walks out as a disciple of a serial killer. His hair also goes white from the trauma of what happened to him while he was inside.
Berserk Button: Threatening Patrick and Angie (particularly Angie) is a good way to get on Bubba’s bad side.
In a much darker example, catching someone being irresponsible with fire will drive Patrick's dad into an unstoppable rage.
Lionel McCready in Gone Baby Gone, a gentle, even-tempered guy who's pretty much the only person still making excuses for his Jerk Ass sister, completely loses his shit when said sister insults his wife and makes a racist remark.
Big Bad Wannabe: Kenny Hendricks in Moonlight Mile; he has Patrick beaten and delivers demands he drop his investigation, but once it becomes clear that he's just a flunkie for some much worse people, he's a Butt Monkey for the remainder of the book.
Black Comedy: Though the books are pretty serious, Patrick's narration carries a definite undercurrent of this, which Word of God is a defense mechanism. The climax of Moonlight Mile, for instance, alternates between horrific and screamingly funny.
Boston: Word of God is he intentionally presents a version of the city that's more in line with how it was when he was growing up, and the modern Boston is actually nowhere near as bad as portrayed in his books, in part thanks to the "Boston Miracle" in the 1990s that drastically reduced violent crime.
Brother-Sister Incest: In Prayers for Rain the Big Bad actually brags about the fact that he's engaged in this with the murder victim, his sister Karen. Except he's not actually his victim's brother and is only posing as him.
Bully Hunter: Both Patrick and Angie, particularly in Moonlight Mile; it's part of what makes Patrick a poor fit for the big-shot security agency he's been doing investigations for, as it requires him to work for Corrupt Corporate Executive types that he finds repulsive.
Chekhov's Gun: In Moonlight Mile Amanda's No. 19 Red Sox Jersey proves to be this, since it's the jersey of player Josh Beckett and the town where Amanda was taken in the Berkshires during her first disappearance is called Becket, where Patrick and Angie eventually find her the second time.
The "one-shot", essentially a miniature bomb packed with a bullet, that Patrick takes to his confrontation with Gerry Glynn in Darkness, Take My Hand, which ends up saving his life and allowing the police to shoot Gerry.
Chekhov's Gunman: Angie’s grandfather, a Mafia boss and associate of The Don of Boston, "Fat Freddy" Constantine, in the second book. Angie uses her connections with him to capture and interrogate the mob flunkies who know the killer’s identity.
Chekhov's Skill: One of the FBI agents in the second book briefly mentions that he's a literary buff. Because of this, he's able to recognize all of the subtle references to Othello in the killer's notes. This saves Patrick's life in his final confrontation with the killer. It turns out that "Iago" is a codeword that signals his dog to attack.
Continuity Nod: Recur throughout the series, although Moonlight Mile is the only book that could really be considered a straight-up sequel (to Gone Baby Gone, in this case).
Domestic Abuser: Phil, Angie's ex-husband. The first book opens with Angie sporting a black eye, and Patrick relates a previous incident where Angie told him to "be reasonable", and Patrick's response was to reasonably beat the hell out of Phil with a pool cue. This was not the first time this happened.
Earn Your Happy Ending: The end of Moonlight Mile has Patrick decide to quit the PI business and go back to school after he decides he's more than earned it with all they've been through.
Ephebophile: In Moonlight Mile, Patrick accuses Dre of being this towards Amanda, who's 16 so it's not illegal per se under Mass lawnote which is also a notable aversion of SoCalization since both Lehane and Kenzie know age of consent in Mass is 16, but still questionable since he's at least twice her age. Dre doesn't exactly deny it either, and it's later implied that Amanda knew he wanted to get into her pants and used this to manipulate him.
Even Evil Has Standards: Boston's Irish Mafia plays host to some vicious, sadistic people. But even they're repulsed by the serial killer in the second book, refusing to believe that such a person could have grown up in "the neighborhood".
After one of the Mooks in Moonlight Mile decides to quit the life to sell insurance for his uncle, The Mafiya expresses disgust with the career choice.
Everyone Went to School Together: Most of the main cast, including Patrick, Angie, Phil, Bubba, and many of the psychos/mobsters that they have to deal with. Justified, since Dorchester is an exceptionally close-knit neighborhood.
Evil Power Vacuum: One has developed in the Dorchester underworld between Darkness, Take My Hand and Gone Baby Gone; Cheese Olamon has been doing his best to fill it.
For the Evulz: The serial killer's manifesto in Darkness, Take My Hand reveals this, in so many words, as his primary motivation.
Friend in the Black Market: Bubba, who can always be trusted to find the necessary ordinance to help with any situation, and used to be a Marine.
Gayngst: In Darkness, Take My Hand , Eric Gault, a former professor of Patrick's, turns out to have been having an affair with Jason Warren, the son of Patrick and Angie's client; he didn't divulge this even after Jason is murdered because he knows that a same-sex professor-student relationship, even involving adults, would provoke an All Gays Are Pedophiles-type reaction from parents and would likely cost him his job.
Hard Boiled Detective: Patrick Kenzie is a refreshing subversion. He has a fairly Dark and Troubled Past, and he encounters plenty of horror in his job. But in spite of it all, he remains an easily relatable everyman with plenty of stable relationships, and he often uses humor to focus on what's important. He has a right to be angsty, but he rarely wears his angst on his sleeve.
Heel-Face Turn: Phil Dimassi gets a big one. He's introduces in the first book as Angie's abusive, alcoholic husband who Patrick just refers to as "the asshole". In the second book, we learn that he was once Patrick's best friend, and that most of the animosity between them stems from Patrick's jealousy over him marrying Angie. After he and Angie get a divorce and he quits drinking, he and Patrick begin to reconnect.
Heroic BSOD: Patrick, after he fails to stop Gerry Glynn from killing Phil; he's snapped out of it when Gerry takes a mother and infant hostage. By the time the book ends, he's settled into a more muted, long-term version thanks to the horrors they've experienced.
Information Broker: Devin the cop and Richie the journalist both often serve this purpose for Patrick.
It's Not You, It's My Enemies: Inverted with Patrick and his girlfriend Grace; she leaves him when she realizes the danger his work potentially puts her and her daughter in.
Ludicrous Gibs: The result of Dre getting hit by the incoming Acela train in Moonlight Mile, to the point that it takes Patrick a few minutes to understand exactly what he's seeing splashed all over the other cars.
Memetic Badass: Patrick is an in-universe example. After he single-handedly takes down Gerry Glynn, he becomes something of a local legend around Dorchester, and there are several True Crime novels published about his exploits.
Intrepid Reporter: Richie Colgan, who usually assists Patrick by giving evidence to the press and digging up information.
It Gets Easier: Averted- Patrick commits two murders over the course of the series, Marion Socia, a psychotic gang leader who pimped out his own son and Corwin Earle, a pedophile and murderer of children. Despite the two characters being grade-A Asshole Victims and Patrick killing them years apart, he's racked with guilt both times.
Kirk Summation: Patrick to Gerry in Darkness, Take My Hand when Gerry attempts to make his murders seem grandiose; Patrick steadfastly refuses to give him the satisfaction of being horrified by him, and simply tells him that he'll completely vanish from the news cycle when something more sordid grabs their attention.
Laser-Guided Karma: Dr. Dawe in Prayers for Rain believes himself to be the victim of this; when his daughter was born with a heart condition that was at the time considered a death sentence, he switched the newborn with that of a woman who had died in childbirth; when the healthy girl the Dawes took was just a little girl, she fell through a frozen lake and drowned, while their biological daughter ended up adopted and living a perfectly normal life.
Love Triangle: Patrick, Angie and Phil were in one for the longest time, since Angie actually lost her virginity to Patrick, panicked, and then ran to Phil. It takes them many years to settle it and then Phil ends up dying.
Macguffin: Senator Paulson's photos in the first book.
Morality Pet: Patrick essentially serves this role for Bubba, who otherwise is very much ruthless and remorseless. Patrick and Angie's daughter Gabby also serves this role for him in Moonlight Mile since he's fiercely protective of her, and she adores him in turn.
Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: How Amanda feels about Patrick's decision to return her to her mother; played with, in that Patrick didn't believe himself to be doing the exact right thing even beforehand, just the best of bad options.
Oh Crap: In Darkness, Take My Hand, when Patrick puts two and two together after realizing that 1- a serial killer is stalking him, 2- his house painter said he wouldn't be able to make it that day and 3- there's someone outside painting his house...
Only in Florida: The section of Sacred set in Tampa has shades of this. The craziest stuff in the book happens in Florida.
Parental Neglect: Helene McCready, in the fourth book, is criminally neglectful of her daughter Amanda.
Private Detective: Patrick and Angie, natch. It's actually a relatively realistic depiction—most of their cases start out as missing person cases, which PIs often handle in real life. Though it's rarely shown for obvious reasons, Patrick mentions that the bulk of his cases are pretty mundane ones involving corporate embezzlement and similar crimes. When the duo get involved in real crimes, there's always a justification for it, like a criminal having a personal connection to Patrick, a client deliberately avoiding police scrutiny, or Dorchester residents' refusal to trust the police.
Psycho for Hire: Kevin Hurlihy, The Dragon for The Irish Mob in Darkness, Take My Hand; Patrick describes him and his much more Punch Clock Villain Mafia counterpart, Pine, as dangerous in two distinct ways: Pine is so disconnected from killing that he just sees it as a way to pay the bills, whereas Hurlihy enjoys it enough that he'd do it for free.
Psycho Sidekick: Bubba Rugowski, Patrick's friend and occasional bodyguard. He's a violent, sadistic, openly racist gun nut who lives in a warehouse surrounded by land mines. But for all of his, uh...eccentricities, he's fiercely loyal to Patrick and Angie, and will do anything to help them in their cases. In Moonlight Mile Patrick takes him along and repeatedly tells him that he can't just shoot everyone, not that Bubba listens.
Put on a Bus: Bubba goes to jail at the beginning of the third book, and isn't around for the fourth.
The Bus Came Back: In the fifth, Bubba has probably the most screentime of any of the books.
Devin & Oscar between the fifth and sixth books; justified in that they've retired from the force in the 12 years between the two books.
A Real Man Is a Killer: Averted. Patrick is only forced to kill a few times in the series, and each time he feels terrible about it. So much that by the third book, he outright refuses to kill the Big Bad when he has his final confrontation with him.
Refuge in Audacity: In Darkness, Take My Hand, Patrick goes out to get the mail and finds Ax-CrazyThe Dragon for The Irish Mob on his doorstep; he simply sits down, starts reading his new issue of Spin and tries to strike up a conversation with the guy on the magazine's content.
Redemption Equals Death: Phil in the second book. He's killed by Gerry Glynn when he tries to take revenge on him for attacking Angie.
Religious Horror: Lots of it in the second book. Victims of the serial killer are always found crucified, and it turns out that there are actually three killers who have modeled themselves after the Holy Trinity. There's Gerry Glynn (the Father), Alec Hardiman (the Son), and Evandro Arujo (the Holy Ghost).
Sadistic Choice: Mafioso Stevie the Pick in Prayers for Rain derives his name from his fondness for giving his victims two options for how they die.
Scars Are Forever: Patrick has a hideous scar on his stomach from when his abusive father burned him with an iron. In the second book, he also gets a scar on his face from Gerry Glynn slashing him with a knife, prompting him to grow a beard to cover it. In the same book, Angie gets a scar on her stomach from getting shot.
Single-Target Sexuality: Averted. Angie may be the love of Patrick's life, but she's far from his only love interest. Aside from various lovers, he has a stable, happy relationship with a single mother in the second book, which ends when his involvement in the Gerry Glynn case puts her daughter in danger.
Second Love: The two of them zig-zag this trope, since they were technically each other's first loves, but Patrick is Angie's second husband after she divorces Phil (who technically was her second love) and then even more so after Phil's death, which quashed any chance of him and Angie getting back together again.
The Starscream: Yefim in Moonlight Mileputs a bullet in his boss at the end of the book, and even better, Amanda gave him the idea.
Title Drop: In A Drink Before the War, Darkness, Take My Hand and Gone Baby Gone.
Trauma Conga Line: The series is essentially a very long one for Patrick and Angie, and at the end of Moonlight MilePatrick quits the business for good, even tossing his gun in the Charles River, and decides to go back to school.
In the same book, Beatrice McReady is revealed to have gone through this after the events of Gone Baby Gone, since in addition to the events of that book, which left her husband imprisoned, she also lost her son in an auto accident and was cut off from contacting Amanda, who then goes missing again.
Putting his victims through these via manipulation is the MO of the Big Bad of Prayers for Rain.
Truth in Television: Many of the series's depictions of domestic abuse are inspired by Lehane's time spent working with abused children.
Tuckerization: Several characters are based on real people, including Angie (the name of Lehane's real life wife) and Bubba (based on a childhood friend of Lehane's).
The Unseen: Patrick and Angie both have a sister, but neither ever shows up in the series.
Unreliable Narrator: Trevor Stone in Sacred is definitely a bastard, but when it's revealed what a Manipulative Bitch his daughter is, a great deal of what we've been told about him becomes ambiguous.
Used to Be a Sweet Kid: A brief aside when Patrick investigates the carjacking-cum-murder of a woman he knows; the thief's social worker explains to Patrick that he was a promising kid working his way through college, but when he was given a huge pay cut he had to double his hours and ended up addicted to meth just to stay awake for both work and school.
Marion Socia is in the thick of one by the end of A Drink Before the War.
Kirill Borzakov in Moonlight Mile has been having a coke-and-vodka-fueled one for a while on top of being Ax-Crazy from the beginning; it's the main reason his compatriots give Yefim permission to kill him.
What Happened to the Mouse?: Stevie the Pick and Roland- both of whom are Karma Houdinis- promise Patrick that they'll kill him eventually, the former as soon as Angie's grandfather has died, and yet in Moonlight Mile over a decade has passed since both threats, apparently without incident.
Will They or Won't They?: Patrick and Angie in the beginning, until they hook up in the second book. It's then double subverted when Angie moves out at the end of Gone Baby Gone, but in the next book they get back together for good and have a daughter by the sixth.
Wise Beyond Their Years: The now 16 Amanda McCready to an extent that Patrick finds both admirable and kind of disturbing. He notes that you'd have to become this with a mother like Helene.