Saturday, April 25, 2020

Live by Night by Dennis Lehane

There is an awful lot of good stuff in Dennis Lehane’s 2012 gangster novel Live by Night.

This story of Boston bootleggers, beginning in the mid-1920s and ending in the mid-1930s, is not the tough, fast crime novel I was expecting when I picked it up.

At the start, Joe Coughlin is a 20-year-old punk and stick-up man with an unusual background. He did not grow up on the mean streets, but in the suburbs. His father was a high-ranking member of the Boston Police Department.

During one of his robberies, Joe meets Emma Gould, and is infatuated by this girl with eyes as cold as her personality. She is nothing but trouble for Joe. But then Joe is not as bright as he thinks he is. Even with his rise in the illegal liquor business and his becoming an underworld boss in Florida, he makes a ton of mistakes, mostly due to his inherent softness.

Lehane’s depictions of 1920s Boston and 1930s Tampa are loaded with atmosphere and history. The connections with Cuba and the rum-running from that island nation to the U.S. was a highlight.

But the book is heavy with dialogue that struck me as too modern and some of the action – like the attack on a boat – read like scenes from an exploitation movie.

Lehane, author of Mystic River and many other novels, spins a good yarn, but frankly I was expecting more from him.

(For more posts on books, head over to Todd Mason’s blog.)

(Also, please check out my crime novel, Lyme Depot, too. Thanks.)


  1. Sorry it didn't quite work out for you.

  2. I pretty much agree with you. I liked the book, but not nearly as much as the two that flank it, THE GIVEN DAY (to me, this is Lehane's masterpiece) and WORLD GONE BY.

  3. I have to admit this one didn't appeal to me when I read the blurb. I'll dig out one of his unread earlier offerings next time I want to read him.