Summary and book reviews of Live by Night by Dennis Lehane

Live by Night

by Dennis Lehane

Live by Night
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2012, 416 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2013, 416 pages

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Book Summary

Live by Night is a riveting epic layered with a diverse cast of loyal friends and callous enemies, tough rumrunners and sultry femmes fatales, Bible-quoting evangelists and cruel Klansmen, all battling for survival and their piece of the American dream.

Boston, 1926. The '20s are roaring. Liquor is flowing, bullets are flying, and one man sets out to make his mark on the world.

Prohibition has given rise to an endless network of underground distilleries, speakeasies, gangsters, and corrupt cops. Joe Coughlin, the youngest son of a prominent Boston police captain, has long since turned his back on his strict and proper upbringing. Now having graduated from a childhood of petty theft to a career in the pay of the city's most fearsome mobsters, Joe enjoys the spoils, thrills, and notoriety of being an outlaw.

But life on the dark side carries a heavy price. In a time when ruthless men of ambition, armed with cash, illegal booze, and guns, battle for control, no one - neither family nor friend, enemy nor lover - can be trusted. Beyond money and power, even the threat of prison, one fate seems most likely for men like Joe: an early death. But until that day, he and his friends are determined to live life to the hilt.

Joe embarks on a dizzying journey up the ladder of organized crime that takes him from the flash of Jazz Age Boston to the sensual shimmer of Tampa's Latin Quarter to the sizzling streets of Cuba. Live by Night is a riveting epic layered with a diverse cast of loyal friends and callous enemies, tough rumrunners and sultry femmes fatales, Bible-quoting evangelists and cruel Klansmen, all battling for survival and their piece of the American dream. At once a sweeping love story and a compelling saga of revenge, it is a spellbinding tour de force of betrayal and redemption, music and murder, that brings fully to life a bygone era when sin was cause for celebration and vice was a national virtue.

Chapter One
A Twelve O'clock Fella in a Nine O'clock Town

Some years later, on a tugboat in the Gulf of Mexico, Joe Coughlin's feet were placed in a tub of cement. Twelve gunmen stood waiting until they got far enough out to sea to throw him overboard, while Joe listened to the engine chug and watched the water churn white at the stern. And it occurred to him that almost everything of note that had ever happened in his life—good or bad—had been set in motion that morning he first crossed paths with Emma Gould.

They met shortly after dawn in 1926, when Joe and the Bartolo brothers robbed the gaming room at the back of an Albert White speakeasy in South Boston. Before they entered it, Joe and the Bartolos had no idea the speakeasy belonged to Albert White. If they had, they would have beat a retreat in three separate directions to make the trail all the harder to follow.

They came down the back stairs smoothly enough. They passed through the empty bar ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Live by Night begins with Joe Coughlin in a tub of cement surrounded by armed men on a boat heading out to sea. How does this opening foreshadow the story that unfolds?

  2. Joe, the youngest son of Thomas Coughlin, a high-ranking member of the Boston Police Department, was born into a socially respected and accomplished family. How did he fall into a life of crime? Think about his relationship with his father. How are the two men alike? Did they love each other? Did they respect each other?

  3. Talk about Prohibition America as it is portrays in Live by Night. Do you see any similarities with twenty-first-century America? Why does Joe thrive in this world?

  4. Joe's first boss, Tim Hickey, tells him, "the people we service, they visit ...
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    Edgar Awards
    2013

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    Edgar Awards
    2013

Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Live by Night gets you right in the gut. Joe is attractive in a night-prowling animal kind of way. He is the guy girls want but most listen to Mom and stay the hell away from him. You know all along he is going to have the worst end but you still want to tag along and be a vicarious part of his life. I was hooked from the first sentence, the line did not slacken until the last.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers).

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Media Reviews

NPR - Jennifer Reese

In his taut, twisty novels set in the modern era, like the magisterial Mystic River, Lehane burrows into the dark psyches of his characters without stopping to show how they lace up their shoes. This is Lehane's second historical crime novel, after 2008's The Given Day. That book featured a few of the same characters, and all of the same shortcomings. Like the vintage car collector who endlessly waxes his prized Packard but won't take it on the road, Lehane lovingly amasses the perfect period details but can't breathe life into this novel.

The Boston Globe - Eugenia Williamson

Lehane’s fondness for the past becomes truly problematic when Live by Night boils over into the didacticism of the pre-war American social novel. [However], the failings of Live by Night are largely overshadowed by its absorbing virtues.

Entertainment Weekly - Thomas Geier

Live by Night is a ripping, movie-ready yarn that jumps from a Boston prison to Tampa speakeasies to a Cuban tobacco farm. B+

Booklist

Starred Review. This is an utterly magnetic novel on every level, a re-imagining of the great themes of popular fiction - crime, family, passion, betrayal - set against an exquisitely rendered historical backdrop.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. either as epic in scope nor as literarily ambitious as its predecessor, the novel builds to a powerful series of climaxes, following betrayal upon betrayal, which will satisfy Lehane's fans and deserves to extend his readership as well. Power, lust and moral ambiguity combine for an all-American explosion of fictional fireworks.

Publisher's Weekly

Starred Review. Lehane has created a mature, quintessentially American story that will appeal to readers of literary and crime fiction alike.

Reader Reviews

Mary G. (Purcellville, VA)

Lehane's best work
Live By Night is the rare sequel that is actually better than its predecessor--in this case The Given Day. Not only is this a fascinating look at the Prohibition era, but the characters are utterly intriguing. I was very conflicted about who were the...   Read More

Melissa Y. (Knoxville, TN)

Fantastic Read!
What a book! This was my first time reading a book by this author and I will definitely read more. It's seems rare anymore that I become fully immersed in a story and its characters while totally losing track of time. Live by Night was one of ...   Read More

Patricia D. (Woodland Hills, CA)

Living through Prohibition
Dennis Lehane is a magician of history, bringing the past alive and allowing readers to relive prominent events. Live By Night focuses on the 1920s and 1930s, the rum runners, the gangsters, police and government corruption, and some wonderful ...   Read More

Judi C. (QUARTZSITE, AZ)

Smooth, gritty, vivid!
This is a solid read taking you to 1926 prohibition era Boston, Ybor City/Tampa and even Cuba over an eleven year period. It follows the outlaw life of the charismatic Joe Coughlin, a smart kid who early on gets undone by a femme fatale. I ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Rum-Running in Prohibition Era Florida

Prohibition in the United States began on January 1920 when the 18th Amendment, ratified the previous year, took effect. It ended with the passing of the 21st Amendment on December 5, 1933, which repealed the 18th. Illegal liquor was, of course, produced and sold during this time. It was typically lousy stuff; poor quality drink made, sometimes, from types of alcohol not intended for human consumption. But Florida was a different story. High quality rum and other spirits were available just a few hundred miles away in the Bahamas and Cuba. The only thing separating thirsty Floridians and these riches were the perilous Florida Straits, but where there's a will, there's a way, or so the saying goes - and so rum-running was invented.

The ...

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