Lehane’s ‘Live By Night’ a good gangster tale

I’ve long declared my love for author Dennis Lehane’s hard-boiled, heart-on-his-sleeve Boston crime novels, especially his series based on private investigators Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro.

I was less fond of Lehane’s “The Given Day,” a look at the troubled Coughlin family of Boston in the 1910s. Father Tom was a crooked cop whose sons got into no end of cops-and-robbers misadventures.

So I didn’t know what to expect from “Live by Night,” Lehane’s follow-up that takes up the story of Joe Coughlin, the son who decided to pursue a career as an outlaw – in reality, gangster – in 1920s Boston.

Joe Coughlin is an appealing protagonist, despite his life of crime and because of his moral code. He steals, sure, but there are lines he won’t cross.

Unfortunately for Joe, one line he will cross is the common sense barrier that might have kept him from hitting on the girlfriend of a prominent Boston gangster.

Just when it looks like “Live by Night” will be a standard tale of cops and crooks on the streets of Boston, Lehane gives the plot a twist. Joe ends up in prison, his father ends up a piteous figure and, before we’re done, the action takes us to rough-and-tumble Tampa and Havana.

“Live By Night” has some good characters and a slightly episodic plot. Antagonists slide in and out of the story in a manner that ultimately really does make sense, even if it doesn’t seem to at the time.

Lehane has a great ear for cops and bad guys, even those from generations ago.

“Live By Night” is good crime fiction, good drama and a bittersweet look at family, love and damn bad luck.

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