Friday, November 22, 2013

The Dark World of Dennis Lehane

I've been a huge fan of Dennis Lehane ever since he agreed to come to one of the first Southwest Florida Reading Festivals, back when it was run by a small group of librarians and was held outdoors under the hot Florida sun. It's come a long way since then and Mr. Lehane has returned to receive our Distinguished Author Award.

Dennis Lehane

So I'm not sure why it took me so long to get to his latest novel Live by Night. Even though I don't drive as often or as far as I used to when I was a working girl, I still decided to listen to the audio version of the book. The reader, Jim Frangione, did an exceptional job of setting the tone of the story with his low, serious, but never somnolent voice. One surmises that things will not end well.

I've read all of Mr. Lehane's books except for the short stories and I think it's fair to say that he has a very jaded opinion of humanity in general and politicians in particular. This dark world view informs all of his work, from the wonderful police procedurals featuring Angela Gennaro and Patrick Kenzie, to the gritty, deeply disturbing Mystic River. Still, his way with words is so superlative, his ability to paint a picture so exceptional, and his way of eliciting the emotional tug from even the hardest readers' hearts so compelling, that he raises the bar in whichever genre he chooses.

Live by Night builds slowly, you think you'll be reading an Irish Godfather. Joe Coughlin is just another two-bit hood working in the Boston underworld when he runs up against big-time gangster Albert White and falls hard for Albert's girl, Emma, a woman who will bring him no joy.

After a bank heist goes terribly awry, Joe and his father Thomas, Asst. Chief Superintendent of the Boston police department, have their final blowout. Beaten and bowed, Joe lands in Charlestown, a violent prison where a cop's kid will be hard pressed to find protection without being able to kill or be killed. And so begins a long relationship with an Italian mob boss who runs Charlestown from the inside out.

The novel follows Joe to Tampa, Florida, where, after proving his mettle to the local Cuban honcho, he gets involved in the lucrative rum trade. We're smack dab in the middle of the prohibition era and Lehane's meticulous research provides readers with a fascinating lesson in the history of supply and demand, the cigar industry in Ybor City, and the development of the west coast of Florida.

Lehane manages to write a rip-roaring historical balanced with a nuanced psychological portrait of the criminal mind as it wrestles with good and evil. Almost every character, though deeply flawed, shows glimpses of the humanity often buried deep beneath the surface.

This is a novel about family and loyalty and even about love. It's about the sins of the fathers being visited upon the sons and about those sons looking for redemption, a stab at a legitimate life, a chance to make amends.Ultimately this is a gut wrenching, completely absorbing meditation on the fate of those who choose to Live by Night.


Jessica said...

Sounds like I should get around to reading the copy I got at BEA last year!

Jessica said...

Sounds like I should get around to reading the copy I got at BEA last year!

Sallyb said...

Yes, Jess, I was actually really pleasantly surprised. Very well done.

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