“Some years later, on a tugboat in the Gulf of Mexico, Joe Coughlin’s feet were placed in a tub of cement,” writes bestselling author Dennis Lehane, in the opening paragraph of Live by Night (William Morrow 2012, $27.99), his recently released novel. It’s a situation that makes Joe realize “almost everything of note that had ever happened in his life — good or bad — had been set in motion the morning he first crossed paths with Emma Gould.”
With this type of POW beginning, Lehane, known for his noir take in such novels such as Mystic River, Shutter Island and Gone Baby Gone, takes us into the life of Joe Coughlin, the youngest of a large brood in an Irish Catholic family whose patriarch is a hard and mean high ranking police officer with the Boston Police Force. Joe himself seems set for a life of crime, taking advantage of all that the Prohibition era offers to an up and comer willing to break all the rules to make money.
“I’ve always absolutely loved the time period,” says Lehane about the Roaring 20s. “The clothes, and the cars, and Tommy guns, and maybe too much exposure to 1920s and 1930s gangster movies when I was a kid.”
Exceptionally well researched, the book takes us back into that time and gives us a grudging respect for Joe as he makes decisions that will undo his success in racketeering. And the biggest bad choice is Emma, a waitress at a speakeasy who comes from a tough Charlestown neighborhood and has an even tougher boyfriend who doesn’t like competition.
“Charlestown,” Joe says to himself in the great hard guy voice that Lehane so easily makes believable. “No wonder she hadn’t gotten rattled with a gun pointed at her. In Charlestown, they brought .38s to the dinner table, used the barrels to stir their coffee.”
What: Dennis Lehane reads from and signs his newest novel, Live by Night
Where: Harold Washington Library, 400 South State Street Chicago, IL
When: Wednesday, 6:00 pm, October 10