Dublin is currently witnessing a very bloody feud between two rival drug gangs, which to date has claimed 5 lives since last September, including that of an innocent man in what is being thought to have been a case of mistaken identity. Not that the perpetrator is going to feel any sense of remorse, murder is murder. The so called hit-men carrying out these murders are drug addicts themselves, doing anything to pay off a debt, score a hit or at least stay in the good books of the gang leader. But this is not something unique to Dublin, every major city the world over and down through history has had a problem with gangsters…. Before narcotics became such a booming industry, they dealt in other vices and contraband, such as sex, gambling and in the US especially, alcohol during the prohibition. This brings us to this month’s book group read, its Live by Night by Dennis Lehane.
Joe Coughlin comes from a good Irish – American family, in 1920’s Boston. Aged nineteen he and couple of friends hold up an illegal poker game, that’s when he meets Emma Gould, the hostess at the game. He falls for her instantly, but she’s also the Moll of a local gangster Albert White. When their next heist goes wrong and two cops die, Joe hides the money he is holding and then flees the city but not before taking Emma with him. Unfortunately, they run into Albert, whose men beat Joe to within an inch of his life. He’s only saved from certain death by the arrival of his Police Commissioner Dad and a large number of the Boston PD. He is sent to jail for the murder of the two cops. Inside he comes under the protection of Mafioso Tommaso Pescatore, from then on he starts on the road to becoming a leading figure in the mafia. On his release he goes to where he hid the money, but it’s gone and he’d given the location to Emma just before the run in with White and his men. She was last seen leaving with one of Albert’s men. Can Joe find Emma? His money? Will he get revenge on Albert White for the beating?
When we discussed this book at book group, I was surprised by a number of the group who said it was violent and they felt uncomfortable reading it. One person said they had to stop for fear of being desensitized!!!! Myself and others argued that there are more violent books out there and we see much more dramatic stuff on TV. They told the group they avoid these types of books and programmes for the same reason.
If we were all to stop reading crime fiction tomorrow for fear that it will have an effect on our moral compass, then a lot of excellent writers would suddenly find themselves out of work. The same goes for cops and pathologist, how do they deal with the sights they see on a daily basis? They learn to switch off. They use mortuary humour and that’s not desensitizing, its coping. Crime fiction is what it says on the proverbial tin. Fiction!!!! If you feel the material is too graphic it’s down to two things a) the writer’s skill and b) your excellent imagination.
Another member said the women portrayed in the book were just being used… well they were mainly prostitutes. This is what the mafia did back then and still do these days, ran brothels. I don’t know what that contributor was expecting to find in something set in the 1920’s underworld? Women like those in Sex In The City?
Yes, the book is violent but no more than you’d expect from a work of fiction dealing with the subject matter. If you’re expecting Cecelia Ahern or Beatrix Potter you’ve opened the wrong book.
I found the book to be a gripping and excellently written crime drama from one of America’s leading crime writers. It tracks Coughlin’s life from the streets of Boston and the wit shredding life in jail, to his new life as a bootlegger, rum runner and eventual heavy weight gangster in the steamy tropics of Florida and Cuba, without any loss of pace or tension. The book is in the similar style as those early works of Jeffery Archer such as Kane and Abel, The Prodigal Daughter and First Among Equals.
This is the first Dennis Lehane I’d read, although I’d seen the Film of Gone Baby Gone. While my Fiancé has been trying to get me to watch Shutter Island for a couple of years now and Mystic River is on my watch list too.
Published in 2012 by William Morrow / Harper Collins (www.harpercollins.com ) Live by
Night is the eleventh of thirteen books American author Lehane has written to date. Born and raised in Boston, he still lives there and sets most of his books there. His first six books featured the protagonists Kenzie and Genaro. While Live by Night is the second book in a Trilogy that follows the lives of the Coughlin Clan, the other two are The Given Day (2008) and World Gone By (2015). The film adaptation is due for release in 2017 starring Ben Affleck as Coughlin, Robert Glenister as White, Sienna Miller as Emma Gould and Brendan Gleeson as his dad. He’s also written for the TV series The Wire, while the movie The Drop was based on a short story of his.
So if you feel your nerves can stand an excellently written crime thriller, then get down to your local bookshop or download a copy and with summer starting make its first warm rays felt on our cheeks, this book and the other two in its trilogy should make excellent holiday reading.