Thursday, April 18, 2013

Dispatch From The Field: Joe Says "now that I’ve read “Live By Night,” I am hooked on Lehane!"

I am a newcomer to reading Dennis Lehane, starting only with Moonlight Mile, which I absolutely loved. I’ve seen every one of the movie adaptations of his novels. But now that I’ve read Live By Night, I am hooked on Lehane!

In his latest novel, Lehane brings Prohibition-era Tampa Bay, Florida, to life. The story follows the life of Joe Coughlin, a Boston gangster (or “outlaw,” as he likes to call himself) who ends up in Ybor City, the part of Tampa the Chief of Police lets gangsters operate. In Ybor, Coughlin creates an empire of rum-running with the aid of Cuban bootleggers, and the beautiful woman he slowly falls in love with. The novel’s tension is in the razor-thin line between life and death in the criminal underworld. With everyone scrambling to make as much money before Prohibition ends, and find a way to keep making money in the new world after Prohibition, murder is just one more means to a paycheck.

Dennis Lehane’s writing is so vivid, I almost feel like I’ve already seen the film adaptation of this one. Each sentence is alive with the oppressive tropical heat of Florida and Cuba, the cold streets of Boston, the smoky opulence of illegal casinos, and the dingy speakeasies.  I was drawn immediately to the characters, drawn into this fascinating world, furiously turning pages, taking it all in, not wanting the book to end. Lehane is a master of pacing, building the tension of the novel to a head, but not letting the reader off to easily. When crime was the national pastime, things weren’t always what they seemed on the surface, and in Live By Night the story is not a straight-forward narrative. Not quite a mystery, the loyalties of the characters aren’t always clear, and just like in life, sometimes you get thrown for a loop. In other words, expect to be surprised by this addictive story.

 Easily the best novel I’ve read so far this year, Dennis Lehane has brought to life a rather dark chapter in American history and populated it with very real characters. Fans of crime fiction, literary fiction, and history will be pleased by this excellent novel.


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