Could this matchup of an upstart young writer and an established champ turn into a Duke - Lehigh situation? Bazell has only written 2 books, Lehane has 9 (*Note: I am excluding Lehane's The Given Day because it is not really a mystery book). Here we go.
1) Quality of Books - Again, we will start with the lower seed, in this case Josh Bazell. A young writer who has often been described as writing novels that are a cross between "The Sopranos" and "House" authored by Chuck Palahniuk...quite the combo.
Very Good: Beat the Reaper, Wild Things
Pretty high praise for the guy, how can Lehane's much more extensive bibliography stack up?
Lehane has written a long series in addition to two incredible stand alone novels.
Great: Mystic River, Darkness Take My Hand, Gone Baby Gone, Shutter Island
Very Good: Prayers for Rain, Sacred
Good: A Drink Before the War
Okay: Moonlight Mile
Percentage wise, Lehane takes it, but it is much closer than it looks...as we will discuss below.
2) Great Characters - Bazell has written two books from the point of view of Dr. Peter Brown, a former mob hitman turned life saver with a target on his back. Brown is hiding from his former employers and trying to maintain a low profile. In the second novel he is solving a mystery and protecting an archeologist. The man is cutting and sarcastic and able to kill with the efficiency of a secret agent. Altogether a great person to base a series around - additional bonus points for the fact that he kills someone by making a knife out of his own femur. As in the bone in his leg.
Lehane has created many, many characters and based a series around two private detectives, Patrick and Angie. The two have a fantastic back and forth and some of their interactions are hilarious. They also have a friend named Bubba. Bubba is a complete psycho and probably Lehane's greatest invention - a man completely without morals who will do whatever it takes to protect his friends regardless of the consequences. His stand alone characters (like crime boss Jimmy in Mystic River) are deeply flawed and complex people whom Lehane fleshes out in typically detailed fashion.
This one comes down to a relatively simple question: Is Bazell's one character better than any of Lehane's?
3) Style / Inner Workings / Readability - This will surely be the tightest catagory between the two authors. Bazell has an interesting style, complete with the medically detailed footnotes one would expect from a doctor. Lehane's writing is gut wrenching and often a mediation on the cost of violence. Both write page turners, although Lehane relies more on the shocking twist including the one at the end of Shutter Island which seven years later I still cannot figure out. Lehane's take on the private eye world of Boston took us to the dark side of a city that had rarely been seen in the fiction world. Through a complex cast of characters and darkly twisted plots, Lehane made Boston his city. He owns it as thoroughly as Lee Burke does New Orleans. His best work? In my opinion, his take on the serial killer genre Darkness Take My Hand. The book was horrifying, twisty and took a wander down the dark path at the center of each of us. Truly a stunning achievement. However, Lehane did stumble somewhat in his last effort Moonlight Mile in which all the elements that made his earlier books successful were omitted without explanation. Basically: he pulled his punches and lost all the darkness and tension from the previous books.
Bazell's best is probably the thoughtful Beat the Reaper in which his main character reflects on how he became a mob hitman - and then a doctor - while completely destroying the American health care system. There is a lot going on here and much of it works brilliantly. While some of the plot is a little bit predictable, Bazell does anything but take a straight forward path getting there. As mentioned earlier, his footnotes are truly bizarre and understatedly brilliant.
Bazell may one day be at the top half of the seeding if he continues to do good work in the future, but...this is Lehane we are talking about and any of his great books is better than either of Bazell's.