Posts Tagged ‘Dennis Lehane’

Coincidence: On my tour of the popular culture of 2012, my trip to Las Vegas and Yann Martel

December 23, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
Dec. 23, 2014

Lately, entirely by coincidence, I’ve been reading and reviewing book and movies from 2012: Ang Lee’s Life of Pi, Nick Harkaway’s Angelmaker, Ben Affleck’s Argo, Dennis Lehane’s Live by Night and (back in September) Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises. Now, entirely by coincidence, this week, I’ll have two blog posts connected to Canadian novelist Yann Martel.

Why? Coincidence.

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Some degrees of separation: Not entirely random notes about Ben Affleck, Dennis Lehane and Christopher Nolan and blogging

December 19, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
Dec. 19, 2014

One interesting thing about blogging that I learned this fall is that it helps me make connections — often completely unexpected ones.

I don’t just mean the kind of free-association stuff that happened in my car — well, in my head while I was driving — Wednesday night, which I wrote about yesterday. I mean things like actor-director Ben Affleck’s connection with novelist Dennis Lehane.

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An enterprising Boston criminal does well by doing wrong in ‘Live by Night’

November 3, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
Nov. 3, 2014

Nearly two years ago, I read my first Dennis Lehane novel — The Given Day, Lehane’s sprawling 2008 tale of the well-to-do Coughlin family and their servants (one a black man, the other an Irish immigrant). I enjoyed the book tremendously, as did a relative of mine, who has since been consuming other Lehane works and passing them on to me.

Since then, I’ve read four other Lehane outings: the mystery Shutter Island, the Patrick Kenzie/Angie Gennaro detective novels Moonlight Mile and A Drink Before the War, and now Live by Night.

Live by Night, published in 2012, is a sequel of sorts to The Given Day. The book begins in Boston in 1926, six years after the advent of Prohibition. Young Joe Coughlin — the son of a prominent Boston police official — is working as an aide (and part-time muscle) for a local mobster. After a bank heist goes horribly wrong, leaving three cops dead, Coughlin is nabbed while trying to meet with his lover, Emma Gould, before skipping town.

Coughlin is sentenced to prison, where he falls in with another gangster. After several treacherous years behind bars, his new boss orders the about-to-be-freed Coughlin to take charge of the rum-running business in Tampa, Fla.

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Private eye struggles to make a dark and drama-filled journey in Lehane’s ‘Moonlight Mile’

April 29, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
April 29, 2013

A dozen years ago, private investigator Patrick Kenzie sent Beatrice McCready’s husband to prison. Kenzie discovered that the man had kidnapped the couple’s niece, 4-year-old Amanda McCready, after being appalled by her mother’s dangerously neglectful attitude.

At the beginning of Dennis Lehane’s 2010 novel, Moonlight Mile, a nearly bankrupt Kenzie is on the brink of finding long-sought gainful employment in the midst of the Great Recession. But he puts off accepting a job offer after hearing Beatrice McCready’s desperate new plea for help locating Amanda: “You found her once. Find her again.”

Where has the 16-year-old Amanda gone and why? What happened to Sophie, her high school friend, and to Sophie’s boyfriend, both of whom are also missing? What should Kenzie think about the neglected childhood Amanda led after he restored her to the custody of her careless mother? And does this new case truly offer a shot at redemption for the awful fallout from the first time Kenzie found the missing McCready?

Lehane, the author of Mystic RiverShutter Island and The Given Day, is a master story-teller. (I’ve read the latter two of those books in addition to Moonlight Mile.) But in comparison to the other Lehane volumes I’ve consumed, this work — per, the sixth featuring Kenzie and his partner-turned-wife, the former Angie Gennaro — is a bit of potboiler.

Still, Moonlight Mile is a solid and compelling detective story, with punchy but realistic dialogue, sharply drawn characters and an intriguing plot. Most any lover of mysteries should enjoy this novel, and I will gladly be reading more of Lehane’s work.

Schemes, suspense and psychosis are the order of the day on Lehane’s ‘Shutter Island’

January 17, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
Jan. 17, 2013

Some men are born mad. Others have madness thrust upon them. The latter case is true of Teddy Daniels, a federal marshal dispatched in September 1954 to Shutter Island, the eponymous setting of Dennis Lehane’s fascinating 2003 psychological suspense novel.

Daniels is accompanied by a new partner, Chuck Aule. Their official mission on the remote Boston Harbor outpost, home to Ashecliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane, is to investigate the disappearance of an escaped patient. Despite his apparent loyalty to his senior partner, Aule’s ulterior goals aren’t entirely clear to the grizzled Daniels, a war veteran and experienced killer.

And while we gradually learn more and more about why Daniels’ eye has been trained on Ashecliffe long before the murderous patient absconded, his purpose on the island also remains mysterious to the reader — and ultimately, perhaps, even to Daniels himself.

My last true weekday post of 2012 was this review of Lehane’s The Given Day, a sprawling 2008 historical novel about one family and two men — one a scion, the other a servant — set in the aftermath of World War I. (The bulk of the book took place in Boston, which seems to be Lehane’s home turf.) Shutter Island is entirely a different beast, however. At 369 pages, it’s much shorter than The Given Day.

The 2003 book is also much more tightly focused in time and scope. Aside from flashbacks, virtually all of Shutter Island takes place on or very close to the watery outpost, whereas The Given Day had scenes set in Ohio, Kansas, Washington, D.C., and New York. Shutter Island’s main action, again excepting flashbacks, spans four days, not several months, and its cast of characters is significantly smaller than The Given Day’s.

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In ‘The Given Day,’ Lehane breathes immediacy, vitality into the Boston of 1919

December 27, 2012

By Matthew E. Milliken
Dec. 27, 2012

Before I was given a copy of The Given Day, along with what was effectively a command to read the book in short order, I’d never laid eyes on a Dennis Lehane tale before.

Which isn’t to say that I did not know of or respect this American novelist. I saw and greatly admired Mystic River, the movie based on a 2001 Lehane work, when it was released to significant acclaim in 2003. Still, it wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I even cracked the spine of one of his novels.

The bulk of The Given Day transpires in Boston between mid-1918 and late 1919. It is largely the story of two men. One is Danny Coughlin, a massive, strong-willed 27-year-old policeman whose father is an Irish immigrant who has risen to prominence and a captaincy in the Boston police department. The other is Luther Laurence, a slim, fleet-of-foot handyman, also strong-willed, whose father abandoned his son and wife to poverty.

Although most of this 2008 novel is told from Coughlin’s and Laurence’s perspectives, a number of interstices present the viewpoint of one George Herman Ruth, the baseball immortal better known to fans as the Babe. A handful of relatively short passages put us inside the minds of other key characters, notably Coughlin’s father as well as Danny’s slightly older and much younger brothers, Connor and Joe, respectively; and Laurence’s wife.

Ruth meets Connor Coughlin and Danny Coughlin separately, but these encounters are essentially incidental to the plot. The ball player has two run-ins with Laurence, also mostly incidental to the main plot. However, the first of these meetings takes place as part of an episode that presents a gripping metaphor for race relations in America for much of this nation’s history. (Race relations seems too weak a phrase for a segregated system in which rights and wealth were largely reserved for Caucasians; please feel free to suggest more aptly worded sentences in the comment section below.)

The majority of The Given Day documents the personal and societal forces that led up to the evidently disastrous Boston police strike of 1919. (I believe this event took place in September of that year.) Lehane’s sympathies are clearly with not just the police labor union but with other unions, yet he rarely reduces issues to black and white.

In his telling, the policemen — and they were all men then, of course — were essentially forced to take radical steps because of the parsimony of Boston’s leadership. Police officers were required to work extended hours and to spend three nights a week on call, sleeping in precinct houses that were filthy and ridden with vermin. They never received compensation for working overtime. The force went for years without raises, despite promises of fair treatment by Boston officials. Officers who put their lives on the line found themselves unable to provide for their families even as other personnel, such as trolley car operators, made more, worked less and had been awarded raises more recently.

One of the book’s few out-and-out villains is a petty, vengeful police commissioner who sees compromise with his aggrieved work force as a black mark on his personal honor. The commissioner’s adding insult to injury at a key moment helps convince 1,400 officers to walk off the job. Read the rest of this entry »

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