A loose sequel to Lehane's Given Day
, this novel takes place seven years later as the country is settled deep in Prohibition. Joe Coughlin, barely an adolescent when we first met him as a bit player in the last book, is now a young man working as a contractor for one of Boston's bootlegging gangsters, committing petty crimes and robbing rival speakeasies with his childhood pals the Bartolo brothers. When their boss is murdered by rival mobster Albert White, Joe is told that he has to either pay tribute to Albert (essentially, give Albert a percentage of all his robberies) or give up the life. Joe decides to take part in one last bank robbery before skipping town with his lady Emma. Problem is, Albert's in love with Emma, too, and he's pissed that Joe was robbing the bank behind his back. The bank robbery goes wrong and Joe finds himself in prison, navigating new relationships with a complicated hierarchy of gangsters. Over the next decade, we follow Joe's rise to power as he leaves prison in Boston for the rum markets of Tampa. Murder, backstabbing, and twists ahoy!
I find myself strangely without much to say about this one. I liked it, even more than The Given Day
(which you by no means need to read first), but I can't expound on it all that much. Lehane writes gripping tales that are complex without being dense. He excels at writing snappy dialogue and evoking reader empathy for deeply flawed characters. He's clearly done extensive research to get the details of his story right, but sometimes his narrative gets a little bogged down in the details – you could probably shave a fourth of the text out of this book and lose little of substance.
Joe spends a lot of time contrasting those who live by day with those who live by night – everyday folks with the gangsters, bootleggers, and rum runners with whom he spends his time. Lehane seems consistently interested in those who live by night, skirting the rules most of us live by. All of his novels, the Kenzie-and-Gennaros, the stand-alones, all focus on some variation of this theme. If I am to believe the interview he gave to NPR while I was reading this in the car on vacation last week, the follow up will focus on the role mobsters played in protecting our shore from German U-boats in WWII. I'll be interested to see how that ties in with the current novel.