Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Given Day/Live by Night by Dennis Lehane

   While you may not have read a Dennis Lehane book yet, I bet you've seen one of the movies based on them...Gone Baby Gone or Mystic River (admittedly, two of my favorites).  Lehane usually writes of Boston, of gritty detectives, of the 'seamier' side of life.  I love his style which is tautly written, with surprising bits of humor in turn.
   His trilogy of books, however, takes a bit of a different turn.  Lehane begins with The Given Day, a thick, meaty book on an Irish-Catholic family of Boston policemen at the turn of the century.  The main character of that book is Aidan (Danny) Coughlin, the golden-haired child and son of a Boston police detective, followed by one brother who is a city attorney and the youngest boy who is merely the neglected baby of the family.  That book includes a union riot, the great molasses explosion in Boston, as well as a new young Red Sox player by the name of Babe Ruth.  I listened to it while I cleaned a newly remodeled house a few years ago and believe me, the time sped by with Lehane's wonderful story-telling and a great Irish narrator.
   His second in the series is Live by Night.  The main character this time around is Joe Coughlin, the youngest brother who grew from a teenage hooligan to a young man of rather questionable character.  The story moves from Prohibitionist and mob-ridden Boston, to the 1930's in Tampa, Florida, covering much of the history of the rise of the underworld.   Joseph is an intriguing dichotomy of a man, one who is capable of murder, but who reads every book he can get his hands on. One who can blackmail a policeman, run a brothel, and orchestrate a jail-house coup, yet also feel empathy for a religious evangelist and share a deep love with his father.  He is an intriguing, complex, and rather compelling character, who you want to strangle sometimes, yet continue to cheer for regardless of his behavior.  Lehane once agains creates a riveting historical book of family drama, crime, and passion.  While I would recommend reading The Given Day first, it is only because it is such a great book - it's not necessary whatsoever to the understanding of Live by Night.  Both are long novels, but well worth the effort.  I also appreciate the fact that the second in this series took a few years to follow the first, and is easy to see in the finely-researched and extremely well-written prose.  I look forward to the third in the years to come.

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