Sun Sentinel


By Dennis Lehane

Morrow ($27.99)

For some criminals, crime is a business that supports families and feeds a desire to lead unconventional lives. And that has made for some intriguing, iconic films and novels such as “Goodfellas,” “Once Upon a Time in America,” “The Sopranos” and “The Godfather” saga.

Add to that list the exquisitely plotted “Live by Night.” Like those other works, “Live by Night” goes beyond the life of crime, skirting that fine line between glorifying the illegal and showing the humanity behind even mobsters.

In this 10th novel, Dennis Lehane examines our history, morality in an amoral world and what motivates some people to “live by night,” making up their own rules as one character says.

Lehane made his career writing a series about contemporary Boston private detectives Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro, and the stunning stand-alone novel, “Mystic River.” But he also has proved himself an astute historian with the chilling “Shutter Island” and “The Given Day,” a saga that clocked in at 720 pages. The leaner, more focused “Live by Night” is no less an epic as it looks at Prohibition and organized crime that flourished because of it. Beginning in Boston during 1926, “Live by Night” moves to Tampa and Cuba, showing a decade in the life of Joe Coughlin.

The brother of a cop and the son of a Boston police captain, Joe choose a different route, reveling in the glory of being “an outlaw,” working for one of Boston’s most feared mobsters and bootleggers. But the job requires one to have “amputated conscience” as Joe’s life is fraught with betrayal, double crossing and brutality. And, as his father knows but Joe refuses to acknowledge, “violence procreates.”

“Live by Night” takes Joe from Boston to a stint in prison to overseeing the mob’s bootleg operation in Tampa’s Ybor City, which he builds into a multi-million dollar empire. Lehane skillfully balances Joe’s business dealings as well as his complicated personal life.

Joe’s older brother, Danny, was the hero of “The Given Day” and that relationship makes “Live by Night” a sequel, of sorts.

The Boston-born Lehane knows his native city like no one else. But you can almost smell the cigars being rolled, the sweet rum being poured and feel the heat of Ybor City of the late 1920s and early 1930s.

“Live by Night” is a masterful outing by an author known for superior storytelling.

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