Mystic River is a powerful exploration of guilt and innocence that ties together the lives of three men over the course of about 25 years. Each of the main characters, Sean, Dave and Jimmy deal with disappointment and mistakes in their lives in fundamentally different ways. Lehane manages to show us simultaneously the heights to which human beings can aspire, even through traumatic experiences, and the depths to which we can sink when we cannot overcome them. Sean and Jimmy are set up as contrasting characters from the start of the novel and their socioeconomic background, the relationship they have with their parents, and their reaction to the tragedy of an abducted friend show two different extremes of human behavior. Dave is set up in the middle and remains an interesting dichotomy. 90% of the time, he's completely passive, someone that things happen to, and you feel nothing but pity for the man as he deals with molestation, job loss, marital problems, and alcoholism. Lehane's intricate plot revolves around the one night in Dave's life when he chooses to take action and become the mover for the first time in his life. His actions have rippled repercussions throughout the story as the murder of young Katie Marcus is tied into the story and brings the lives of the three men back together again, setting up a final contrast of the two extremes we can choose when faced with tragedy.
Lehane writes smoothly and his characters come to simple epiphanies that are profound and yet not overly philosophical. More than anything, Mystic River is an example of what character driven stories really should be. Lehane explores various facets of humanity without pretension and in ways that seem realistic and relatable. A must read for anyone studying characterization or for fans of mystery in general.