Books & Review
Updated: Oct 01, 2012 04:00 PM EDT

live by night

Dennis Lehane is likely best known for the film adaptations of his novels “Mystic River,” “Gone Baby Gone,” and the more recent “Shutter Island.” (Photo : Barnes and Noble)

Few authors have mastered modern crime writing like Dennis Lehane. Whether he's digging up dirt on drugs, child molesters, or gangsters Lehane's passion and knowledge of his subject matter are virtually unrivaled. Now, with his new novel "Live By Night" it seems we can add the Prohibition-era to his list of expertise.

Likely best known for the film adaptations of his novels "Mystic River," the Oscar-award-winning and thought-provoking film of several years back, "Gone Baby Gone," and the more recent "Shutter Island," Lehane has made his career in large part writing about and from the perspective of his Boston heritage. He's written five highly-acclaimed detective novels based in Boston, and has also won awards for his gritty scriptwriting for the cult HBO series "The Wire."

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Lehane has now embarked on a series of novels set around the Prohibition era and after, of which "Live by Night" is the second.

The earlier novel in the Prohibition series, "The Given Day," featured the Boston Police Strike of 1919 and events in Tulsa, Oklahoma, prior to the infamous race riots there in 1921.The story revolved around Boston police captain Thomas Coughlin and his family.

"Live By Night" takes place in 1926, during Prohibition. Main character Joe Coughlin is a police captain's son, who defies his strict law-and-order upbringing by climbing a ladder of organized crime that takes him from Boston to Cuba, where he encounters a dangerous cast of characters who are all fighting for their piece of the American dream.

Joe is a career gangster, surviving hard time in jail to emerge and work with members of the Italian and Irish mobs in Boston and then in Tampa during Prohibition, where he masterminds the supply of liquor, including Cuban rum, north to New England.

"Live By Night" is already receiving favorable reviews. Lehane's book "transcends the mere gangster or crime novel," according to The Idependent. Some critics are even comparing him with John Steinbeck and gum-shoe savant Raymond Chandler, describing him as among the most accomplished and versatile American novelists working today. We have a hard time disagreeing.

"Live By Night" by Dennis Lehane is available tomorrow, Tuesday Oct. 2.  

Excerpt:

Chapter Three

"Hickey's Termite"

Tim Hickey once told Joe the smallest mistake sometimes casts the longest shadow. Joe wondered what Tim would have said about daydreaming behind the wheel of a getaway car while you were parked outside a bank. Maybe not daydreaming - fixating. On a woman's back. More specifically, on Emma's back. On the birthmark he'd seen there. Tim probably would have said, then again, sometimes it's the biggest mistakes that cast the longest shadows, you moron.

Another thing Tim was fond of saying was when a house falls down, the first termite to bite into it is just as much to blame as the last. Joe didn't get that one - the first termite would be long fucking dead by the time the last termite got his teeth into the wood. Wouldn't he? Every time Tim made the analogy, Joe resolved to look into termite life expectancy, but then he'd forget to do it until the next time Tim brought it up, usually when he was drunk and there was a lull in the conversation, and everyone at the table would get the same look on their faces: What is it with Tim and the fucking termites already?

Tim Hickey got his hair cut once a week at Aslem's on Charles Street. One Tuesday, some of those hairs ended up in his mouth when he was shot in the back of the head on his way to the barber's chair. He lay on the checkerboard tile as the blood rolled past the tip of his nose and the shooter emerged from behind the coatrack, shaky and wide-eyed. The coatrack clattered to the tile and one of the barbers jumped in place. The shooter stepped over Tim Hickey's corpse and gave the witnesses a hunched series of nods, as if embarrassed, and let himself out.

When Joe heard, he was in bed with Emma. After he hung up the phone, Emma sat up in bed while he told her. She rolled a cigarette and looked at Joe while she licked the paper - she always looked at him when she licked the paper - and then she lit it. "Did he mean anything to you? Tim?"

"I don't know," Joe said.

"How don't you know?"

"It's not one thing or the other, I guess."

Tim had found Joe and the Bartolo brothers when they were kids setting fire to newsstands. One morning they'd take money from the Globe to burn down one of the Standard's stands. The next day they'd take a payoff from the American to torch the Globe's. Tim hired them to burn down the 51 Cafe. They graduated to late-afternoon home rips in Beacon Hill, the back doors left unlocked by cleaning women or handymen on Tim's payroll. When they worked a job Tim gave them, he set a flat price, but if they worked their own jobs, they paid Tim his tribute and took the lion's share for themselves. In that regard, Tim had been a great boss.

Joe had watched him strangle Harvey Boule, though. It had been over opium, a woman, or a German shorthaired pointer; to this day Joe had only heard rumors. But Harvey had walked into the casino and he and Tim got to talking and then Tim snapped the electric cord off one of the green banker's lamps and wrapped it around Harvey's neck. Harvey was a huge guy and he carried Tim around the casino floor for about a minute, all the whores running for cover, all of Hickey's gun monkeys pointing their guns right at Harvey. Joe watched the realization dawn in Harvey Boule's eyes - even if he got Tim to stop strangling him, Tim's goons would empty four revolvers and one automatic into him. He dropped to his knees and soiled himself with a loud venting sound. He lay on his stomach, gasping, as Tim pressed his knee between his shoulder blades and wrapped the excess cord tight around one hand. He twisted and pulled back all the harder and Harvey kicked hard enough to knock off both shoes.

Tim snapped his fingers. One of his gun monkeys handed him a pistol and Tim put it to Harvey's ear. A whore said, "Oh, God," but just as Tim went to pull the trigger, Harvey's eyes turned hopeless and confused, and he moaned his final breath into the imitation Oriental. Tim sat back on Harvey's spine and handed the gun back to his goon. He peered at the profile of the man he'd killed.

Joe had never seen anyone die before. Less than two minutes before, Harvey had asked the girl who brought him his martini to get him the score of the Sox game. Tipped her good too. Checked his watch and slipped it back into his vest. Took a sip of his martini. Less than two minutes before, and now he was fucking gone? To where? No one knew. To God, to the devil, to purgatory, or worse, maybe to nowhere. Tim stood and smoothed his snow-white hair and pointed in a vague way at the casino manager. "Freshen everyone's drinks. On Harvey."

A couple of people laughed nervously but most everyone else looked sick.

That wasn't the only person Tim had killed or ordered killed in the last four years, but it had been the one Joe witnessed.

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