Sunday, October 28, 2012

Book Review: "Live by Night" by Dennis Lehane

Dennis Lehane is one of my all-time favorite authors. I've always been awed by his ability to combine crackling action and great plot development with complex, well-drawn characters. While these characteristics have been key factors in the excellent Mystic River and Shutter Island, as well as his terrific series with Patrick Kenzie and Angela Genarro, I wondered how they would translate into a more epic-type novel.

When we first meet Joe Coughlin, the gangster at the heart of Live by Night, he has his feet in a tub of cement and he's just about to take a permanent swim in the ocean. But then the novel travels back in time to the Prohibition-era 1920s in Boston. Joe, the son of a well-respected police inspector, has decided to follow a different path than his father, and he and two friends work for a well-connected mobster.

One evening during a robbery, Joe lays eyes on Emma Gould, who, as it turns out, is the girlfriend of a rival mob boss. This relationship completely obsesses Joe, and sets him down a dangerous path that leads to betrayal and, ultimately, prison. Prison tests Joe physically and emotionally, but it also leads to a long relationship with mob boss Maso Pescatore.

After leaving prison, Joe is sent to Tampa, where he begins building an empire and forging relationships with local Cuban leaders. But the road to success never runs smoothly, and over the years, Joe finds himself battling the KKK, moonshiners, religious zealots, the local police and even the U.S. Navy, as well as some old nemeses. And each encounter leaves Joe torn about what he wants for his future.

Lehane definitely knows how to spin a story, and it's definitely the mark of his strength as an author that you find yourself rooting for Joe, even as he's plotting to destroy his enemies and committing crimes. There are some great action scenes, as well as some strong character development. Some of the character dynamics and plot twists are a little more predictable than I would have liked, as you can see most of what happens coming before it does. But I still found myself hooked on the story and enjoying the characters and their relationships.

Live by Night may not be the best Lehane book I've read, but I really did enjoy it. And now that I know how he does with this type of book, I'll go back and read Any Given Day.

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