Thoughts: Live By Night, by Dennis Lehane

After The Exorcist, my TBR decided I was in need of a good gangster romp. And boy, was I!

The main thing about Live By Night is that it’s cool in every way you want a gangster novel to be cool. The protagonist, Joe Coughlin, is clever but small fry (for a lot of the book, anyway). He’s unromantic, but decent. He gains a wider understanding of the effects on society of the bootlegging business, and American foreign policy in the 20s and 30s than you might expect from a gangster novel, and deals with it the same way as most of the rest of us deal with our own equivalent knowledge; by making the stopgap amends that he can, and thinking about it from time to time while he continues living as he did before.

There is a lot of what AO3 would call “period-typical racism”, so if you’re not in the mood for an awful lot of racial slurs, some (possibly?) dated and some very much not, then take that into account.

That said, there is a pretty satisfying gangsters vs KKK sequence.

Some of Joe’s ideas on foreign policy and how things are going to go, especially re: Cuba, are interesting, and his experiences in Ybor (heavily immigrant part of Tampa in Florida for the information of The Rest Of Us) are quite, I don’t know, humanist? But at the end of the day, period-typical racism.

I was surprised to see that this was the second book in a series, especially when we follow Joe Coughlin from his very early twenties throughout what must surely be the most eventful years of his life (I mean, for his sake as much as anyone’s) but on looking further into it, the first book follows one of his brothers and the third book is about a couple of weeks later in Joe’s life (unluckily for him, eventful ones!). Maybe I’ll sniff them out at some point.

The writing’s just lovely. The rhythms of the dialogue, from Boston to Tampa, are spot on. And Lehane is a storyteller with confidence – you know the type, or at least I hope you do. The type where you start reading, and immediately stop worrying about whether you’re going to enjoy yourself.

If this is a short post, then blame the heat, not the book. Frankfurt’s been heating up again and it’s been all I can do to sprawl out in front of the fan and give thanks, as I read, that I wasn’t in Florida with Joe. But now it’s over… I’m a little bit sad to leave him there and come back here.

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