“Some years later, on a tugboat in the Gulf of Mexico, Joe Coughlin’s feet were placed in a tub of cement. Twelve gunmen stood waiting until they got far enough out to sea to throw him overboard…And it occurred to him that almost everything of note that had happened in his life – good or bad – had been set in motion the morning he first crossed paths with Emma Gould.” So begins Live by Night, by Dennis Lehane. You may have heard of him, or read Shutter Island, or seen the movie. Dark. Deep and dark, yet his characters grab you with their stretched equations of right and wrong. With their flickering, daring lives.
One thing that annoys me is when a book breaks its promises. Sometimes it’s just poor writing. Sometimes it gallops until the horse dies and the author just keeps flogging. With Lehane, there’s no chance of either. His prose races clean and crisp, his characters are razor sharp. And the plot sizzles like a lit fuse.
The setting is Boston, in the middle of the Roaring Twenties. Always wondered about that name. Was it the 3-4 and 4-4 time jazz that rambled from speakeasies and leaked out onto the streets? Or the shuffle of flappers bouncing along, doing the Charleston? Maybe it was the illegal flow of the devil’s potions that nobody, not even the Congress, or the strong arm of the law, could dam up. I think it was the roar of gunfire that swept the streets of every major city, including Boston.
Joe Coughlin was in the middle of it. And when you live outside the law, there’s no coming back. The police want to kill you. Your partners want to kill you, but most of all your competition wants you cold and dead.
Lehane is right on target with Live by Night. This book shoves you into the epicenter of danger and corruption, love and betrayal, good, evil, and everything in between.
If you liked Puzo’s The Godfather, you’ll sink your teeth into Live by Night. Take a trip back to Boston in the 1920s. Taste the rotgut booze, ogle the easy women, smell the cordite. Run for your life!