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I have a perfect memory for mysteries, it is simply very short. Case in point: Dennis Lehane. At the turn of the century I was in a mystery reading frenzy, carrying books back and forth to the local library as my husband and I chilled out in our air-conditioned home during the height of the desert summer. I remember Mystic River, vaguely, and Prayers for Rain, sort of. I suspect that I read more of his work at the time, since we tended to read all the work of an author before moving on to another writer. Just don't remember much about them. Except that they were very gritty and set in Boston.

Dennis Lehane
Which makes sense as Dennis Lehane was born in Boston in 1965, the Dorchester neighborhood, to be specific. Raised in Boston he lives there still with his second wife and their daughter. His first wife was an advocate for the elderly for the city of Boston and is now an Assistant District Attorney for Suffolk County. His current wife is a doctor, but it is clear from his Dorchester beginnings, his parents' occupations (he was a foreman for Sears & Roebuck, she was a cafeteria worker in Boston's public schools) and his writing that his roots are firmly planted in the world of the blue collar working class.

According to Wikipedia;

He is a graduate of Boston College High School (a Boston Jesuit prep school), Eckerd College (where he found his passion for writing), and the graduate program in creative writing at Florida International University in Miami, Florida. He occasionally makes guest appearances as himself in the ABC comedy/drama TV series Castle.
He is probably best known for his present day series set in Boston and starring private detectives Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro. Movies have been made of his work, Gone Baby Gone, Mystic River and Shutter Island. He was also a writer on The Wire for HBO. He has been active in the teaching of fiction writing in the Boston area, at several colleges and writers' workshops.

William Morrow has launched a Dennis Lehane Imprint that began with The Cutting Season by Attica Locke:

Lehane would oversee publication of a "select number" of fiction titles annually and that he would work with his longtime editor Claire Wachtel. (Lehane's agent Ann Rittenberg negotiated the deal with Morrow.)

Lehane in a statement, "My goal is to call attention to worthy writers, who for some unknown reason aren’t as popular as they deserve to be. That's a reason to get out of bed every morning." William Morrow publisher Liate Stehlik added: "In a world where computer algorithms and screen placement often replace in-store recommendations, having a line of books with a talented and highly regarded writer like Dennis is a great way to help readers discover what to read next. The list will be made up of the kind of high-quality writing that Dennis most admires and that readers would associate with his name."

His latest work is a stand alone novel that follows characters introduced in The Given Day, an historical novel described by Amazon as:

Set in Boston at the end of the First World War, bestselling author Dennis Lehane's extraordinary eighth novel unflinchingly captures the political and social unrest of a nation caught at the crossroads where past meets future. Filled with a cast of richly drawn, unforgettable characters, The Given Day tells the story of two families—one black, one white—swept up in a maelstrom of revolutionaries and anarchists, immigrants and ward bosses, Brahmins and ordinary citizens, all engaged in a battle for survival and power. Coursing through the pivotal events of a turbulent epoch, it explores the crippling violence and irrepressible exuberance of a country at war with, and in the thrall of, itself.

Some years later, on a tugboat in the Gulf of Mexico, Joe Coughlin’s feet were placed in a tub of cement.
So begins Live by Night, which explores the world of Joe Coughlin, the youngest son of Thomas Coughlin, who is now, in 1926, the Deputy Superintendent of the Boston Police Department.

Alienated from his family, Joe early turns to a life of petty crime with his friends, two brothers from the neighborhood. What starts with burning newspaper stands ends with a bank robbery that results in the murder of three police officers from a neighboring town. Before leaving Boston forever, Joe stops to find the woman who has kept him enthralled since the first time he saw her while sticking up a poker game where she was serving drinks. Unfortunately, she is also the mistress of one of Boston's top mobsters, Albert White.

The novel follows Joe through his capture, and time at Charlestown Penitentiary, and then his move to Ybor City, near Tampa, the rum capital during Prohibition. It is the story of a man who sees himself as an "outlaw" and not a gangster, and how his vision changes over his life.

Dennis Lehane is wonderful at re-creating the atmosphere of a city and of a time long past without ever letting go of his modern day sensibilities. There are many parallels between the era of 1926-1935 and today and Lehane takes full advantage of the similarities to express his political opinions as in this scene between Joe and his brother Danny in the visiting room at Charlestown Penitentiary:

“I don’t understand,” Danny said softly.

“I know you don’t,” Joe said. “You, you buy into all this stuff about good guys and bad guys in the world. A loan shark breaks a guy’s leg for not paying his debt, a banker throws a guy out of his home for the same reason, and you think there’s a difference, like the banker’s just doing his job but the loan shark’s a criminal. I like the loan shark because he doesn’t pretend to be anything else, and I think the banker should be sitting where I’m sitting right now.

And in October, while speaking to NPR, Dennis Lehane made it even clearer in case anyone missed his point.
"The attraction of the gangster myth is that it's capitalism laid bare," Lehane says. "We see these guys who are doing all the terrible things that we believe that a lot of corporate America are doing, but at least they're upfront about it. And so, while that is maybe splitting hairs, I think there's something slightly more admirable about Joe Coughlin than say, you know, the guys who rig the system so that they could ... lay waste, not only to this country but to the globe back in 2008."
I like it when I can recommend a mystery not just for the quality of the characters, setting, and plot, but also the political point of view that never overwhelms or is even noticeable unless, like mine, your political radar is always set on "high".

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Originally posted to Readers and Book Lovers on Mon Oct 22, 2012 at 05:00 PM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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