Saturday, January 18, 2014

Review: "Live By Night" by Dennis Lehane

While it is very predictable, Dennis Lehane’s Live By Night is a book that I thoroughly enjoyed. It has all the trappings that make him my favorite American writer working today; prose and dialogue that expounds on everything from way a criminal act goes down to the very meaning of existence, and never coming off as arrogant or phony in doing so, and plot lines that create urgency and tension with realistic scenes of violence and characters who make you feel and live what is at stake in the pages. This is an indirect sequel to what I feel is Lehane’s magnum opus The Given Day. I don’t want to say that it is any less than the other book; it is just a different kind of story entirely. While The Given Day is almost purely a historical novel, Live By Night is definitely a crime epic set in the Prohibition Era, which makes this an excellent book for people who are fans of the show Boardwalk Empire (and shows why he was brought on as a writer for this previous season. And being a crime epic, this is a much darker book than The Given Day. The cost of life seems greater, the chances of survival, of both the body and the soul, are quite slim for all involved. The focus in this chapter of Lehane’s proposed trilogy is Joe Coughlin, who survived a bout of malaria in The Given Day, who is all grown up and leading a life of crime. A stain on the family name according to his father Thomas, a police commissioner, not just because of his criminal ways; he has fallen in love with Emma Gould, a squeeze of Albert White, the rival of the boss Joe works for. In a series of events that begin with a botched robbery, Joe is almost beaten to death, first by White, than by his vengeful father and a group of thuggish policeman, and Emma is presumed dead. A prison sent soon follows, where he is taken under the wing of kingpin Maso Pescatore, and is sent down to Florida to run his illegal rum operation. From there, he becomes a Scarface like figure, basically running the town with his love interest Gracelia, although trouble is never far behind, and the past comes back to try to take away Joe’s future. This is probably the darkest Lehane has gotten since he dealt with child abduction in Gone, Baby Gone, featuring a beating that is the most graphic and stomach turning one I have read in recent memory. It never glamorizes the lifestyle, and there still remains a nugget of the Joe we met in The Given Day, who is deeply moral and wants what is best for him and those that he loves, even though he knows that they are destined for tragedy and ruin. This is powerful, cinematic book that takes the reader on a journey into the darkest areas of desire, and it’s one that only Dennis Lehane can provide.

Rating: 5/5

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