From New York Times bestselling author Dennis Lehane comes this epic, unflinching tale of the making and unmaking of a gangster in the Prohibition Era of the Roaring Twenties—now a Warner Bros. movie starring Ben Affleck, Elle Fanning, Zoe Saldana, and Sienna Miller.
Meticulously researched and artfully told, Live by Night is the riveting story of one man’s rise from Boston petty thief to the Gulf Coast’s most successful rum runner, and it proves again that the accolades New York Times bestseller Lehane consistently receives are well deserved. He is indeed, “a master” (Philadelphia Inquirer) whose “true literary forefathers include John Steinbeck as well as Raymond Chandler” (Baltimore Sun). And, “Boy, does he know how to write” (Elmore Leonard).
About the Author
Dennis Lehane is the author of ten previous novels—including the New York Times bestsellers Live by Night; Moonlight Mile; Gone, Baby, Gone; Mystic River; Shutter Island; and The Given Day—as well as Coronado, a collection of short stories and a play. He lives in California with his family.
Date of Birth:August 4, 1965
Place of Birth:Dorchester, Massachusetts
Education:B.A., Eckerd College, 1988; M.F.A., Florida International University, 1993
Read an Excerpt
Live By Night
By Dennis Lehane
HarperCollins PublishersCopyright © 2012 Dennis Lehane
All rights reserved.
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 the 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 area without incident. The bar and casino took up the rear of a furniture warehouse along the waterfront that Joe's boss, Tim Hickey, had assured him was owned by some harmless Greeks recently arrived from Maryland. But when they walked into the back room, they found a poker game in full swing, the five players drinking amber Canadian from heavy crystal glasses, a gray carpet of cigarette smoke hanging overhead. A pile of money rose from the center of the table.
Not one of the men looked Greek. Or harmless. They had hung their suit jackets over the backs of their chairs, which left the guns on their hips exposed. When Joe, Dion and Paolo walked in with pistols extended, none of the men went for the guns, but Joe could tell a couple were thinking about it.
A woman had been serving drinks to the table. She put the tray aside, lifted her cigarette out of an ashtray and took a drag, looked about to yawn with three guns pointed at her. Like she might ask to see something more impressive for an encore.
Joe and the Bartolos wore hats pulled down over their eyes and black handkerchiefs covered the lower halves of their faces. Which was a good thing because if anyone in this crowd recognized them, they'd have about half a day left to live.
A walk in the park, Tim Hickey had said. Hit them at dawn when the only people left in the place would be a couple of mokes in the counting room.
As opposed to five gun thugs playing poker. One of the players said, "You know whose place this is?" Joe didn't recognize the guy, but he knew the guy next to him, Brenny Loomis, ex-boxer and a member of the Albert White Mob, Tim Hickey's biggest rival in the bootlegging business. Lately, Albert was rumored to be stockpiling Thompson machine guns for an impending war. The word was out - choose a side or choose a headstone.
Joe said, "Everyone does as they're told, no one gets so much as a scratch."
The guy beside Loomis ran his mouth again. "I asked you know whose game this was, you fucking dunce."
Dion Bartolo hit him in the mouth with his pistol. Hit him hard enough to knock him out of his chair and draw some blood. Got everyone else thinking how much better it was to be the one who wasn't getting pistol-whipped than the one who was.
Joe said, "Everyone but the girl, get on your knees. Put your hands behind your head and lace the fingers."
Brenny Loomis locked eyes with Joe. "I'll call your mother when this is over, boy. Suggest a nice dark suit for your coffin."
Loomis, a former club boxer at Mechanics Hall and sparring partner for Mean Mo Mullins, was said to have a punch like a bag of cue balls. He killed people for Albert White. Not for a living, exclusively, but rumor was he wanted Albert to know, should it ever become a full time position, he had seniority.
Joe had never experienced fear like he did looking into Loomis's tiny brown eyes, but he gestured at the floor with his gun nonetheless, quite surprised that his hand didn't shake. Brendan Loomis laced his hands behind his head and got on his knees. Once he did, the others did the same.
Joe said to the girl, "Come over here, miss. We won't harm you." She stubbed out her cigarette and looked at him like she was thinking about lighting another, maybe freshening her drink. She crossed to him, a girl near his own age, maybe twenty or so, with winter eyes and skin so pale he could almost see through it to the blood and tissue underneath.
He watched her come as the Bartolo brothers relieved the card players of their weapons. The pistols made heavy thumps as they tossed them onto a nearby blackjack table, but the girl didn't even flinch. In her eyes, fire lights danced behind the gray.
She stepped up to his gun and said, "And what will the gentleman be having with his robbery this morning?"
Joe handed her one of the two canvas sacks he'd carried in. "The money on the table, please."
"Coming right up, sir."
As she crossed back to the table, he pulled one pair of handcuffs from the other sack, then tossed the sack to Paolo. Paolo bent by the first card player and handcuffed his wrists at the small of his back, then moved on to the next.
The girl swept the pot off the center of the table - Joe noting not just bills but watches and jewelry in there too - hen gathered up everyone's stakes. Paolo finished cuffing the men on the floor and went to work gagging them.
Joe scanned the room - the roulette wheel behind him, the craps table against the wall under the stairs. He counted three blackjack tables and one baccarat table. Six slot machines took up the rear wall. A low table with a dozen phones on top constituted the wire service, a board behind it listing the horses from last night's twelfth race at Readville.
The only other door besides the one they'd come through was chalk-marked with a T for toilet, which made sense, because people had to piss when they drank.
Except that when Joe had come through the bar, he'd seen two bathrooms, which would certainly suffice. And this bathroom had a padlock on it.
He looked over at Brenny Loomis, lying on the floor with a gag in his mouth but watching the wheels turn in Joe's head. Joe watched the wheels in Loomis's head do their own turning. And he knew what he'd known the moment he saw that padlock - the bathroom wasn't a bathroom.
It was the counting room.
Albert White's counting room.
Judging by the business Hickey casinos had done the past two days - he first chilly weekend of October - Joe suspected a small fortune sat behind that door.
Albert White's small fortune.
The girl came back to him with the bag of poker swag. "Your dessert, sir," she said and handed him the bag. He couldn't get over how level her gaze was. She didn't just stare at him, she stared through him. He was certain she could see his face behind the handkerchief and the low hat. Some morning he'd pass her walking to get cigarettes, hear her yell, "That's him!" He wouldn't even have time to close his eyes before the bullets hit him.
He took the sack and dangled the set of cuffs from his finger. "Turn around."
"Yes, sir. Right away, sir." She turned her back to him and crossed her arms behind her. Her knuckles pressed against the small of her back, the fingertips dangling over her ass, Joe realizing the last thing he should be doing was concentrating on anyone's ass, period.
He snapped the first cuff around her wrist. "I'll be gentle."
"Don't put yourself out on my account." She looked back over her shoulder at him. "Just try not to leave marks."
"What's your name?"
"Emma Gould," she said. "What's yours?"
"By all the girls or just the law?"
He couldn't keep up with her and cover the room at the same time, so he turned her to him and pulled the gag out of his pocket. The gags were men's socks that Paolo Bartolo had stolen from the Woolworth's where he worked.
"You're going to put a sock in my mouth."
"A sock. In my mouth."
"Never been used before," Joe said. "I promise."
She cocked one eyebrow. It was the same tarnished brass color as her hair and soft and shiny as ermine.
"I wouldn't lie to you," Joe said and felt, in that moment, as if he were telling the truth.
"That's usually what liars say." She opened her mouth like a child resigned to a spoonful of medicine, and he thought of saying something else to her but couldn't think of what. He thought of asking her something, just so he could hear her voice again.
Her eyes pulsed a bit when he pushed the sock into her mouth and then she tried to spit it out - they usually did - shaking her head as she saw the twine in his hand, but he was ready for her. He drew it tight across her mouth and back along the sides of her face. As he tied it off at the back of her head, she looked at him as if, until this point, the whole transaction had been perfectly honorable - a kick, even - but now he'd gone and sullied it.
"It's half silk," he said.
Another arch of her eyebrow.
"The sock," he said. "Go join your friends."
She knelt by Brendan Loomis, who'd never taken his eyes off Joe, not once the whole time.
Joe looked at the door to the counting room, looked at the padlock on the door. He let Loomis follow his gaze and then he looked Loomis in the eyes. Loomis's eyes went dull as he waited to see what the next move would be.
Joe held his gaze and said, "Let's go, boys. We're done."
Loomis blinked once, slowly, and Joe decided to take that as a peace offering - or the possibility of one - and got the hell out of there. When they left, they drove along the waterfront. The sky was a hard blue streaked with hard yellow. The gulls rose and fell, cawing.
The bucket of a ship crane swung in hard over the wharf road, then swung back with a scream as Paolo drove over its shadow. Longshoremen, stevedores, and teamsters stood at their pilings, smoking in the bright cold. A group of them threw rocks at the gulls.
Joe rolled down his window, took the cold air on his face, against his eyes. It smelled like salt, fish blood, and gasoline.
Dion Bartolo looked back at him from the front seat. "You asked the doll her name?"
Joe said, "Making conversation."
"You cuff her hands like you're putting a pin on her, asking her to the dance?"
Joe leaned his head out the open window for a minute, sucked the dirty air in as deep as he could. Paolo drove off the docks and up toward Broadway, the Nash Roadster doing thirty miles an hour easy.
"I seen her before," Paolo said.
Joe pulled his head back in the car. "Where?"
"I don't know. But I did. I know it." He bounced the Nash onto Broadway and they all bounced with it. "You should write her a poem maybe."
"Write her a fucking poem," Joe said. "Why don't you slow down and stop driving like we did something?"
Dion turned toward Joe, placed his arm on the seat back. "He actually wrote a poem to a girl once, my brother."
Paolo met his eyes in the rear view mirror and gave him a solemn nod.
"Nothing," Dion said. "She couldn't read."
They headed south toward Dorchester and got stuck in traffic by a horse that dropped dead just outside Andrew Square. Traffic had to be routed around it and its overturned ice cart. Shards of ice glistened in the cobblestone cracks like metal shavings, and the iceman stood beside the carcass, kicking the horse in the ribs. Joe thought about her the whole way. Her hands had been dry and soft. They were very small and pink at the base of the palms. The veins in her wrist were violet. She had a black freckle on the back of her right ear but not on her left.
The Bartolo brothers lived on Dorchester Avenue above a butcher and a cobbler. The butcher and the cobbler had married sisters and hated each other only slightly less than they hated their wives. This didn't stop them, however, from running a speakeasy in their shared basement. Nightly, people came from the other sixteen parishes of Dorchester, as well as from parishes as far away as the North Shore, to drink the best liquor south of Montreal and hear a Negro songstress named Delilah Deluth sing about heartbreak in a place whose unofficial name was The Shoelace, which infuriated the butcher so much he'd gone bald over it. The Bartolo brothers were in The Shoelace almost every night, which was fine, but going so far as to reside above the place seemed idiotic to Joe. It would only take one legitimate raid by honest cops or T-Men, however unlikely that might be, and it would be nothing for them to kick in Dion and Paolo's door and discover money, guns, and jewelry that two wops who worked in a grocery store and a department store, respectively, could never account for.
True, the jewelry usually went right back out the door to Hymie Drago, the fence they'd been using since they were fifteen, but the money usually went no further than a gaming table in the back of The Shoelace, or into their mattresses.
Joe leaned against the icebox and watched Paolo put his and his brother's split there that morning, just pulling back the sweat-yellowed sheet to reveal one of a series of slits they'd cut into the side, Dion handing the stacks of bills to Paolo and Paolo shoving them in like he was stuffing a holiday bird.
Excerpted from Live By Night by Dennis Lehane. Copyright © 2012 by Dennis Lehane. Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This book was "unputdownable". It was such a good read, I hated to see it end. For those of you who are deliberately keeping the rating down due to cost, shame on you! What a shoddy practice and not fair to those of us who rely on fellow readers for an honest recommendation. Certainly we're adult enough to determine if we want to spend what this fine book costs. It's a keeper and will be read again, and again.....shame on you!
If you liked "The Given Day" you'll love this book. Lehane is one of the best writers of our time. It was worth the money.
If you read ANY GIVEN DAY, you will be even more enthralled by this gripping story. His characters and this story make for a fabulous read. If you have not read ANY GIVEN DAY, let this be a story that has you living for each page until you are finally at the end...exhausted after a thrilling ride.
Very well written as are all Lehane's books. An interesting story about a time and place I am not too familiar with. I am in the middle of reading it but am having a hard time putting it down. I would recommend this to anyone who likes mysteries.
If you have not read the first book, you may be lost for a little while, but the story stands on it's own two feet. This author can write, and you almost nod to yourself that he got it right as you listen to his characters think out loud. Some of the characters are a little underdeveloped or unbelieveable, but so are a lot of people we know. My main complaint with this book is two fold: the ending was pretty abrupt, and the author is not as prlific as I would like. I could read a new book by him every month.
Dennis Lehane just joined my list of favorite authors; he paints pictures with his words and makes the reader feel present in the moment...we find ourselves rooting for the central character regardless of his questionable ethics because of his morality in an immoral business.
There is an old cliché about the prostitute with a heart of gold. This same thought can apply to the main character in this novel, a gangster who is, nonetheless, almost too good to be true. But the book is so well-written and -constructed that it would be a shame to arrive at that conclusion. It is a movingly built tale encased in a reconstruction of a unique period in American history. Joe Coughlin, the son of the deputy superintendent of the Boston Police Department, probably could have achieved success in a legitimate manner, except the path was not to his liking. Instead he chose to be an outlaw, and eventually part of the Boston mob, and later the boss of operations in Florida and along the southern coast to New Orleans. What made this possible, of course, was Prohibition, which was the basis for bootlegging, as well as gang wars and murders. He is distinguished from his counterparts by his use of brains (brawn is a reluctant fallback) and hopefully doing good by giving some of his ill-gained profits back to society. The story follows Joe’s life from Boston to Florida and Cuba, his loves, schemes, betrayals, achievements and failures. One can quibble about how the novel concludes, but the sweep is still of epic proportions. It is a welcome addition to the author’s chronicling of 20th century America, and it is recommended.
I am a huge fan of Dennis Lehane, and I think that this book was outstanding! It was equally as engaging and well written as The Given Day. I particulary found it refreshing when the setting moved from Boston to "Cigar City" (Tampa, Fl). I received a huge education on what was going on in Tampa during this time period, and I found it to be fascinating. As far as the characters, they were richly developed, and as for the main character Joe, how could one not love him? If you enjoyed The Given Day, I say that this is a MUST read! I honestly couldn't put this book down once it got rolling (no pun intended...a lot of the book has to do with cigar factories:) I would just like to add, for those of you that rate books poorly just because you can't handle paying for them...well shame on you! You really ruin the entire purpose of this customer review section.
I didn't like this as much as Dennis Lehane's other books. Maybe it was because he moved the action to Florida and I like his Boston settings better. It was intriguing but not the stay - up - all - night - page turner that I am used to with his work. Nice touch incorporating the characters from his previous book but I just couldn't get into the whole Florida mafia bit.
As with all of his previous books, this one is another winner. There is something about the style of his writing, it's hard to put into words, that grabs your interest and will not let you go. His characters have such personality, they come to life as you read. This story takes place in Ybor city near Tampa, Florida. As a graduate of the University of South Florida, I became familiar with that area and his descriptions of the area brought back memories for me as well.
I had this book on my shelf for nine months before I started reading it. I would finish “The Latest, Must-Read, Irresistible Novel of the Year” and say, “now I’ll read that Lehane book,” only to be distracted by the next “Latest, Must-Read . . . .” By doing so, I accomplished two things: 1) I missed reading a very good, albeit violent, novel set in Prohibition New York City and Tampa, Florida, 2) I got to read an escapist novel when I needed it most. Fellow Procrastinators, justification is a wonderful thing. In this case, my deferment in reading this particular book lead to my having a relatively open week in which I could immerse myself in its reading - a treat and a practice in which I rarely get to indulge. Joe Caughlin was 20 years old when he first saw Emma Gould, a moment from which the rest of his life is measured – that glimpse set him upon a path that would define the next nine years of his life (the book only covers that time period). Joe lived in an era – the 10 years of the Volstead Act, commonly known as Prohibition - that allowed for fast living, high adventure and a probable extremely short life expectancy. He had always considered himself “an outlaw,” much to the chagrin of his father, the Deputy Superintendent of the Boston Police department, but his relationship with “the powers that really ran Boston,” opened the door for his becoming a gangster. “It was a dirty business, therefore, we had to do dirty things,” says Joe, for an understatement of the ages. His life as a member of a (Mafia) gang caused a disruption in the plans he had for being an outlaw, a detour that, at first, seemed to be fatal, but resulted in his becoming the “Boss” of the Gulf Coast, from Tampa, FL to Biloxi, MS. In the course of his “making something” from a town (Tampa) known only for its heat, reptiles and cigars, Joe finds he is good at the task assigned to him, finds love in an unexpected place and, of course, has to fight to protect what he created. This is a story of a violent time told from the view point of one who was at the epicenter of that age. Much of what was done to make money was horrible and Joe has no illusions otherwise nor does he make excuses for his actions. He “lives for the night, where we make up the rules.” Joe’s realistic view of what he does not erase the conscious developed during his years living as the son of a Policeman. When he acts, it is decisively but not without consideration of his values. The violence described is graphic, dreadful and sudden told to highlight how Joe is a human being, not just a gangster. This is a good story. It is told using the language expected, with enough blood spilt to put a blood bank at risk. It can be read over a cold, rainy weekend. If one likes a Gangster tales, one would have to look a long time to find better. In many ways, the decade described in this book could be easily translated into this present age, changing only the modes of transportation, the clothing and what was being sold by the gangs. The Demon Rum made and sold illegally then is a small fraction of the illegal substances made and sold today. By the end of the book Joe has grown up at a huge cost. Be it Karma or“what you do to others will be done to you,” what is required of Joe had to be large to even out what he had done. Given the similarities in 1920’s and the early part of the 21st Century, what will be required of us to “balance the books?”
A good read with a well done ending
Great writing...you feel like you are walking beside the main character the whole way through the story. This would be an excellent book for a discussion group. Lehane continues to create his characters with many facets.
LIVE BY NIGHT by Dennis Lehane is a suspense/thriller story that I enjoyed. As a suspense/thriller fan, it was fun to read a story quite different from most stories I¿ve read. I feel the writing is good and the characters are well defined. This book would appeal to mystery readers as well as those who enjoy suspense. Book clubs could find many areas to discuss from gangsters and their morality to knowing how to love the right person. I would not call it a Young Adult story even though the protagonist is in his late teens. It can make you smile occasionally, but is basically a serious story with serious questions. Who will get killed? Who will not get killed? Who is trustworthy, if anyone? I appreciate the chance to read this book.
"Joseph" to his police chief father, Joe Coughlin has been a renegade in the Coughlin family since childhood. As he gets older it gets worse and he considers himself an outlaw; everyone else thinks of him as a gangster. He does have good parts especially after he is "married" to Graciela whose husband lives in Cuba.The setting is in Tampa, Florida in the 1920s through the 1930s. Prohibition is in full swing with the gangsters including Joe selling bootleg liquor in speakeasies. Lots of action, love, betrayal. It was a good read by author Dennis Lehane who I really enjoy reading.
An amazing peice of literature
I did not realize there was an earlier novel in this series. This is a standalone book. Joseph Coughlin is working on the opposite side of the law than his father who is hoping to become the Police Commissioner in Boston. Joseph is involved in robbery which leads to cops dying. He is arrested and sentenced to prison where he meets Maso, head of a powerful crime family in Boston. After his release from prison he goes to Tampa where he heads Maso's family branch there. I enjoyed this story. The era of Prohibition, rum runners, and gangsters is portrayed very well here. Joe is not the strong arm. He works to get agreements from all parties involved. He gets involved with Cubans and gets them to work with him and cut out the others. He builds his own mob. I liked the characters. They were complex--not all good or all bad. I like how Joe backs up his people and how he stands up for what he believes as he gets higher in the organization. I will be reading more of this author
Very entertaining book.
Good characters and interesting time and location.