“Live By Night” by Dennis Lehane / William Morrow Books, 416 pages
Prohibition era, 1920’s America created the bootlegger-turned-mobster, and gave fortunes to men willing to work outside the law and live by night. Dennis Lehane’s new novel “Live By Night” is the story of Joe Coughlin, the youngest son of a Boston Police Captain who meanders away from his family’s set path to make his own way in the turbulent times of the changing world. Joe sees a life of underworld crime as a way out of the corrupt, Union-busting of the Boston Police Department, and a tool for the common man to rise out of a routine life.
“Live By Night” contains Lehane’s best pacing yet, the hook on page one is impossible to resist: Joe wearing cement shoes on a ship in the Gulf of Mexico, his captors intent on throwing him overboard. Taking us back to set up the cliffhanger, Lehane chronicles Joe’s beginnings as a petty crook and bar rat, his time making connections with career criminals, and his first love. He takes us, and Joe, to the streets of Boston, to prison, to the speakeasies of Tampa Florida’s Latin Quarter, to the baseball fields of Cuba, all while navigating the shady trade of illegal booze, mobster ambition, and shifting loyalty. Lehane presents “Live By Night” in a cinematic sweep, free from dull moments. The hook on page one stays with you as Lehane maneuvers through history with period detail and page turning tension. “Live By Night” is a book you’ll want to finish immediately in a marathon read.
Before you read “Live By Night,” I recommend reading Lehane’s “The Given Day,” which introduces you to the Coughlin family, and sets the tone for “Live By Night.” What catapults Lehane’s writing in “The Given Day” and “Live By Night” high above most crime fiction is the seamless blend of fiction to reality. In both novels, Lehane champions the working class, and stands them beside giants like Babe Ruth and Lucky Luciano. Lehane has become a master storyteller, and he’s becoming a master of the historical epic. Fans of Lehane’s early work in the Kenzie/Gennaro series will love “Live By Night,” it’s more fluid than “The Given Day.” So read “Live By Night” for a great escape, and a moving portrait of the American Dream.