Reviewed by Jason Barr
JASON BARR is a teacher in Harrisonburg.
Despite its flaws, Dennis Lehane’s latest novel, “Live by Night,” keeps him at the top of the heap of thriller writers.
Lehane’s strengths — his believable, living characters, his crisp plotting — remain in full force during “Live by Night.”The story of Joe Coughlin’s slow, inexorable climb in the ranks of the criminal enterprise surrounding Prohibition is readable and entertaining. Coughlin is double-crossed, left for dead, gains revenge, double-crosses other people and falls in love in almost dizzying patter of plotting.
However, there are moments in which “Live by Night” seems to lose its way. Unlike his previous work, “Mystic River,” in which the characters became so real and involving that many readers forgot about the mystery at the center of the narrative, “Live by Night” is very much a set piece, and there are moments when Lehane emphasizes the setting — a prison, Boston, Cuba — that the characters seem almost lost, their motivations and desires almost infantile when compared to the world around them.
Lehane also seems to struggle with Joe Coughlin’s romances. By the time Coughlin “matures” into his role in the crime world, he has become so hardened that it is difficult to believe that he could fall in love with anyone, much less deliver a long, awkward musing about the joys of having sex with her.
Essentially, Lehane sets up the romantic subplot almost entirely to find a way to end the novel, which ends rather abruptly and, to be honest, rather strangely. The narrative of Joe Coughlin just … stops.
“Live by Night,” however, like many of Dennis Lehane’s novels, is well written and generally fun to read.
Although Lehane seems to sacrifice characterization in favor of the grim but sparkly locales, he remains a major and vital contributor to the thriller and suspense genres.