Trigger Warning: This novel contains graphic content and descriptions of death, abuse, physical violence, and murder.
Goodreads Rating: 5 Stars
If you’re looking for fast pace, gritty 1920’s gangsters, and prohibition mayhem, then you’ve found the right novel with Live by Night.
I’ve had this book sitting on my shelves for a while, so naturally I decided to look for an audiobook to cross it off the TBR. In doing so, I was introduced to narrator Jim Frangione, whose voice perfectly matched my imagination’s depiction of Joseph “Joe” Coughlin, a Boston born, hard-edged mob man with a mastermind and secretive sensitivity. The lilt of his 1920’s Boston-meets-Italian accent kept me intrigued, and action of the plot kept me on the edge of my seat. This quote about author Lehane, from the cover of the audiobook, kept reverberating in my mind throughout my read:
“You are in the hands of an expert. And you’ll know it.”
-Janet Maslin, New York Times
I sure knew it.
As the story unfolds, we learn about Joe’s break from traditional “honest work” in which he and his brothers plot and scheme for money and power. Joe tended to be the brains of the operation, and often nobody could guess they were the perpetrators. Though they weren’t exactly good guys, they never rose to stepping on the toes of bigger mob bosses. However, one night Joe meets Emma Gould, whose somber expression, drop-dead beauty, and haunting conversation captured his attention. They carry on an affair, and the more time they spend together, the further in love Joe falls.
Joe and his brothers get mixed up in some serious trouble involving a high speed chase (30+ mph in those days) and the death of three cops, leaving Joe with no choice but to make a run for it… but he knows he couldn’t leave Emma behind. Once reunited and with everyone on the lookout for Joe, waiting to capture him and throw him in jail, the two make a run for it. However, Joe isn’t the only one who knows how to scheme. This plot twist is where the real craziness begins.
I thought for sure that Lehane was going to give me a historical fiction twist on a Bonnie and Clyde love story, but it became a gripping suspense thriller of revenge with so many twists and turns that I never knew what to expect. By the end, I was emotionally wrecked and completely aghast. WHY DID YOU DO THIS TO ME, LEHANE?!
Without giving too much away, Joe develops into a successful mob boss as he seeks revenge in Tampa, and Lehane weaves in some of the biggest mob bosses of the time, including the real-life Lucky Luciano. Readers are also introduced to feisty Cuban revolutionary Graciela, who has her own haunted, brokenhearted past (and who made me think of author Chanel Cleeton’s characters.) Just when you think you know what’s going to happen, Lehane turns the tables with an action-packed, page turning scene.
I have already passed on my hard copy because I know one of my friends will enjoy it, but I absolutely recommend the read to all of you who can handle the graphic content and rapid pace.
TL/DR: Live by Night by Dennis Lehane is a 1920’s mobster thriller and love story with plenty of shocking twists.
Read it? Yes!
Recommend it? Yes, but best for mature audiences.
Buy it? It’s a backlist novel, so you should be able to find secondhand copies, and if so then yes, I’d buy one. If not, definitely get a borrowed copy or listen to the audiobook.
If you liked this novel or review, check out these similar reads:
- Next Year In Havana by Chanel Cleeton
- When We Left Cuba by Chanel Cleeton
- Girl Waits With Gun by Amy Stewart