by Jim Ridley
Lehane's termite epics use the devices of the crime novel to chew their way through the secret histories, tangled loyalties and generations-old grudges that create the bonds of community. In the current Scene Ed Tarkington of Chapter16.org praises his latest, Live by Night:
Dennis Lehane built his literary reputation on postmodern thrillers that explore the lives of damaged South Boston cops, criminals and private detectives. His masterpiece, Mystic River, marked him as a genre-bending literary artist who had achieved a rare alchemy of popular and critical appeal. Lehane's reputation (and audience) has since grown exponentially, thanks to award-winning film adaptations of his work — Clint Eastwood's Mystic River, Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island, and Ben Affleck's Gone, Baby, Gone — and his teleplay work for HBO's The Wire. In his new novel, Live by Night, Lehane offers all the tropes of noir: morally dubious antiheroes; femmes fatales; cars, guns and sharp suits; doomed love; and, above all, violence.
Live by Night is essentially a love story. In the first paragraph, as the novel's antihero, Joe Coughlin, stands on the deck of a tugboat in the Gulf of Mexico with his feet in a tub of cement, awaiting the quintessential gangster's demise, his thoughts turn to a girl. "It occurred to him that almost everything of note that had ever happened in his life," Lehane writes, "had been set in motion that morning he first crossed paths with Emma Gould." To trace his journey toward that perilous tub of cement, the novel then abruptly flashes back to Joe's fledgling gangster days in Boston. Back in 1926, Joe, the ne'er-do-well son of a respected police captain, robs an illegal gaming room operated by Albert White, the wealthiest and most feared bootlegger in town. But Joe is less concerned with the trouble he's gotten himself into than with Emma Gould, a classic gangster's moll, whose raw sensuality and fearlessness leave poor Joe smitten. ...
A tribute to the glamorized image of 1920s gangsters, Live by Night immerses readers in a world where men refer to women as dames and no one finds anything humorous or offensive about calling a guy Hymie or Bitsy. In Lehane's contemporary South Boston, the harsh realities of urban life are meant to give pause, but in the '20s and '30s of Live by Night, you can almost feel Lehane grinning as he describes Charlestown, Emma Gould's tough Boston neighborhood: a place where "they brought .38s to the dinner table, used the barrels to stir their coffee." There are shoot-outs and corrupt Boston Irish cops and racing cars sprayed with bullets from Tommy guns. And there is sex and violence aplenty, though in typical Lehane style, of a far less stylized and glamorized variety than found in even the darkest of the old noir classics.
Yeah, there's a book you wouldn't want to read. Lehane's reading tonight is free and open to the public at the Nashville Public Library auditorium, 615 Church St..