Dennis Lehane’s LIVE BY NIGHT

I’m a huge Dennis Lehane fan. From the Kenzie & Gennaro novels through to Mystic River and Shutter Island. My absolute favourite Lehane novel is The Given Day. It is an absolute epic. Set in Boston as the First World War is drawing to a close, the story centres on the Coughlin family and examines the post-war upheavals in America following the war. Dennis Lehane deftly weaves together baseball, racism, migration, anarchism, labour strikes and family politics to create a novel so rich that not only is it impossible to put down, you wish that it will never end.The Given Day was a major change in storytelling from Lehane so much so that I don’t shelve it in the crime section of our bookshop. It was also the beginning of a planned series that would follow generations of the Coughlin family through Boston and the 20th century.

Live By Night is the next book in that series but works perfectly as a stand alone crime novel. The story centres on the youngest Coughlin brother, Joe who was not prominent in The Given Day. It is now 1926 and prohibition is in full effect. Joe has spurned his police family and turned to a life of crime. He proudly calls himself an outlaw. But prohibition has raised the stakes in the crime world and Joe soon find himself neck deep in a world of gangsters. When he falls in love with one of Boston’s most notorious gangster’s girlfriend Joe soon discovers what real trouble is.

I was hoping for another historical epic with a cast of characters whose stories are all inextricably linked like The Given Day and have to admit to being a little disappointed. I also assumed the next book in the series was going to be the next generation of Coughlins. However as a crime novel this is an absolute cracker: gangsters, a tragic love story and a heap of revenge to be dealt out all during an era in America where criminals couldn’t believe their luck that the Government had banned alcohol. The story ranges from the streets of Boston to its prisons and down the rum routes to Florida and Cuba and you can bet Hollywood is already itching to make this. While it wasn’t the book I wanted it is still a thrilling read and I can’t wait to see where the Coughlin story continues.

7 thoughts on “Dennis Lehane’s LIVE BY NIGHT

  1. I read The Given Day and was extremely impressed by it and frankly consider it one of the best books I’ve ever read. After never having read Dennis Lehane before it was a surprise to read such a tremendous book on not only the history of Boston, but much much more. Of course it’s difficult to describe the book, but I find myself even after having read it two weeks ago or maybe even more, still enthralled and attached to the characters.

    However, now that I heard about this new book is centering around Joe, I am intrigued. To counter some of your points however, respectfully, I must say that I do believe Dennis Lehane is taking the right approach. The Coughlin story with Connor, Dan, Nora and others simply has been told to it’s fullest. Dan’s storyline isn’t in the area anymore and frankly is mostly done with and Connor of course met with a unfortunate incident that pretty much wrote him out of the book as well. And Luther, who I guess might appear, also seems like a character who was summed up pretty thoroughly. That’s why, and I hate to say this but it makes sense, I’m glad Dennis Lehane decided to expand the story with Joe. I think it’s a good fit, because Joe ends up very important to the end of “The Given Day,” Also, I imagine Thomas and Ellen, and perhaps Dan and Connor as well will appear in this book, but if it’s written anywhere near the level The Given Day was? I know I will be completely satisfied.

    Thank you for writing a bit about what to expect however, as I had heard nothing aside from the title and release date. I truly appreciate that.


    1. I think I just suffered from wrong expectations. My impression was that Lehane was going to jump generations not follow on so closely plus this is a much tighter crime novel rather than an epic historical fiction. I wanted the same again which I guess is unrealistic but this is still a cracker of a read.


      1. I’m French, and I’m re-reading The Given Day in my language. This novel is a masterpiece. I love it so much that I published a paper about it (in English too). But Live By Night is absolutely not: not the same level of involvement, not the same narrative quality, not the same historical and psychological depth. I’m not the only one to have been really disappointed by the second, which doesn’t have the gripping, violent, passionate, deep and astonishing writing of The Given Day. Ben Affleck is going to adapt the second. Good for him, the book is ideal for a movie. But which filmmaker worthy of the name for the first one? Lehane said himself that he was a bit scared of this idea, that for him the book was impossible to adapt…


      2. Totally agree. The Given Day is in another league. I’ve just read the third Loughlin book. I enjoyed it more having now accepted it is a crime book set post prohibition instead of the magnificent epic that The Given Day was.


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