Live by Night:

by Dennis Lehane

Hardcover, 2012

Call number




William Morrow (2012), Edition: First Edition, 416 pages


By 1926, 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, defies his proper upbringing and his father's strict law-and-order orthodoxy. Graduating from a childhood of petty theft to a career in the pay of the city's most fearsome mobsters, Joe enjoys the riches, 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 can be trusted. For men like Joe one fate seems more likely than all others, an early death.

User reviews

LibraryThing member ken1952
I was a bit disapponted that this novel didn't have the scope of The Given Day. Joe, the youngest brother of the Coughlin clan, becomes a gangster during Prohibition. Very well written, but I wanted more.
LibraryThing member jsharpmd
"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.
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LibraryThing member justmelissa
Live by Night is the story of Joe Coughlin, Prohibition-era gangster who sees himself as an outlaw, as an essentially good man who lives by the rules of the night rather than those of the day. He faithful, loving and forgiving. He'd rather broker agreements with his competitors than kill them. But he's also a gangster - a wildly successful gangster - which sometimes requires him to be ruthless and base. Joe may be soft, but he's not a coward.

Over the course of a decade we follow Joe as he progresses from small time crook to Consigliere, struggles with family relationships and women, builds his empire and reigns with generosity, and tests his belief in God and karma. It's a nuanced story of a complex man - one who struggles to do the right thing in a lawless profession.

In Live by Night, Dennis Lehane brings Boston, Tampa, Cuba, the Great Depression, and the American immigrant experience to life through this fast-paced and engrossing story.
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LibraryThing member mikedraper
"Live by Night' is an incendiary story spanning the rise in power of Joe Coughlin who is about to turn twenty as the story begins.

Prior to the start of the actual story, there is a scene where Joe is in the hands of his enemies. It is clear that this might be his last moments and we wonder how he came to this predicament and if he will be able to survive. The rest of the novel tells of events that led up to this.

Those who have read Dennis Lehane know how memorable his characters can be. Just consider the grieving father, Jimmy Markum and his nervous childhood friend, Dave Boyle, from "Mystic River."

Here again, Lehane returns to Boston to create Joe Coughlin, a strong, resolute character who is the son of Thomas, the deputy supervisor of the Boston Police Department.

We pick up the story in 1926. Mobs ruled the city and Joe is the youngest member of the Tim Hickey crew. Most of the time mobsters have a cruel streak and don't think anything of taking another person's life. Joe is anachronism in that he cares for his friends and those around him.

After spending time at the Charlestown Prison and being there when Sacco and Vanzetti are executed, Joe makes his way to Tampa. His goal is to destroy a man who robbed him of his first love.

I was impressed to watch Joe's rise to power and the manner in which he demonstrated his strength and leadership ability. There was something inside him that made others want to follow him.

The prose is descriptive and vivid. Joe is a character who will take his place as one of Lehane's characters who live on in our memory and Lehane strengthens his reputation as one of our best story-tellers.
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LibraryThing member Darcia
I have long been a fan of Dennis Lehane, and Live by Night reminds me of all the reasons why. The characters here are unforgettable. The plot unfolds in the chaotic times of prohibition, pervasive prejudice, and mafia ruling the cities. In the midst of this madness, Joe Coughlin is trying to find his way. His character touched me deeply, a rare accomplishment in fiction. Live by Night is Dennis Lehane at his best, and I loved everything about this book.… (more)
LibraryThing member eachurch
The Given Day was an extraordinary book. Based on its strengths, I preordered Live by Night and I regret it. It is kind of a sequel. Unfortunately, gangsters and prohibition hold much less interest for me than the social and political unrest in Boston in the 1910s. It didn't help that I found most of the characters rather flat. I almost stopped reading 100 pages from the end.… (more)
LibraryThing member norinrad10
While not as ambitious as "Any Given Day" this an excellent read. Lehane strips things down and tells the tale of the youngest Coughlin. Using Tampa in the 30's as a back drop he tells s fascinating tale of the mobs and prohibition. Pace was on this one is like being in a run away car. Truth is, I would to hear more of Joe Coughlins adventures.… (more)
LibraryThing member labdaddy4
Another excellent Lehane novel - fast paced - hard to put down - very violent and often very sad. No heroic figures just primary characters.
LibraryThing member jeff1124
Dennis Lehane's latest novel takes place during the prohibition era of the late 1920's and early 1930's. It is the story of one man, Joe Coughlin. The book starts out with a bang. Joe is on a boat in the middle of the ocean, his feet in a tub of hardening cement. The book then jumps and tells the story of Joe's life. He starts a life of crime as a teenager and progresses from there. When we meet him he is robbing a small club, and it is not a club he should have been robbing. Joe notices some people and realizes there has been a mistake. Luckily he is wearing a mask. This small part of this impressive book let's us know that Joe is not your average dumb criminal, he has some brains. Yes he has. Over the course of the book we watch Joe fall in love, go to jail, meet some gangsters, make some friends and live a life of crime. He makes many friendships that are all very intriguing and fascinating to watch develop. Many of the situations set up in this book make you feel as if you are there with Joe. You are terrified for him even though he shows little emotion. We know he is scared, he says it throughout the book. Through all of this you like Joe and want him to make smart decisions. You want him to escape and live happily ever after. I'm not going to tell you what happens. The book is too good and needs to be read and savored.… (more)
LibraryThing member Laurenbdavis
Thoroughly enjoyed this, as I did MYSTIC RIVER and GONE, BABY, GONE. Lehane is a fine writer and this, is first foray into historical fiction, is terrific. I recently read J.R. Moehringer's SUTTON. Both are set in the 1920s and 30s (although SUTTON moves into the 1960s) and both are about gangsters. Moehringer's may be more 'literary', by which I mean it reads at times as both meta-fiction and political/social criticism, whereas Lehane's work is more of a straight story, however both books are terrific character studies, well-written, well-researched and utterly riveting. Read 'em both. You can't go wrong.… (more)
LibraryThing member kraaivrouw
Dennis Lehane is hands-down one of my very favorite writers. His books are sad and wise and filled with lasting images, some of which haunt my dreams. He is a writer of great depth and breadth and I read and re-read his books over again (although Mystic River is so painful to me that I cannot read it anymore).

Mr. Lehane's most recent books, The Given Day and Live by Night, take him into the historical fiction genre, although both are tangentially related to crime. The Given Day is set in the late-nineteenth century and ends with the Boston Police Strike of 1919. Live by Night explores the life of Joe Coughlin, a minor character from the previous novel.

Joe Coughlin was his cop father's least favorite child - ignored, neglected, and ultimately brutalized. His relationship with his father and his past lead him to rebellion. Joe Coughlin becomes a gangster and Live by Night tells his story. It is story filled with all the elements of a mobster novel, but rises above its genre in the way that all of Mr. Lehane's writing does. Through Coughlin's story we explore legacies of violence, what it means to be outside of the rule of law, how our choices color our ends. Well-written, as always, with great character exploration, Live by Night is another success for Mr. Lehane. As usual, I can't wait for the next one. You must read this book along with everything else Mr. Lehane's written - you're missing out if you don't.
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LibraryThing member SilversReviews
Prohibition, speakeasies, bank robberies, gangsters, mobsters, jail time, murders....LIVE BY NIGHT has it all. You will follow Joe Coughlin through his life as a privileged child, a gangster, and a mob boss.

Joe Coughlin is the son of Thomas Coughlin....the only problem is that Thomas is the Chief Deputy Superintendent of the Boston Police Department and his son is a criminal. Joe feels he and his buddies are invincible, but he finds out they are not. Joe has committed many robberies in his short life, but the last one did him in....he did jail time for this one. He could have prevented jail time and a beating, but he had to see his "girl" before he left town. He should have just left town....she did him in and caused him trouble until the end.

This book is about the Roaring 20's and life on both sides of the law. It is fast paced and lets you into that time period along with the characters. You will see that you won't know if you are friend or enemy even if you are in with the gang you are a part of. It is true to life and gives insight into how crime works behind the scenes. It is not a pretty will be part of many mob killings and brutal scenes.

The beginning is interesting but the ending is somewhat slow and a bit tedious. It is not one of his better books...sometimes there is too much information, and the scenes seem to drag on. I really lost my interest about half way through the book, but kept reading because I know Mr. Lehane is an outstanding author and kept that in mind as I aimlessly kept turning the pages.

To his credit he has creative titles for each chapter with content that lives up to the chapter's heading. He has expressive, descriptive writing as always that brings that particular event, feelings, or person alive, but it lacks connectivity. At times, I was completely lost. I do have to wonder what he was thinking when he wrote this book....I am disappointed.

Going to rate it a 3/5.

This book was given to me free of charge by the publisher with no compensation in return for an honest review.
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LibraryThing member Doondeck
Not as good as the Given Day, but the story gained power as it went along. Characters also came into deeper focus.
LibraryThing member EdGoldberg
Dennis Lehane follows up his blockbuster historical novel, The Given Day, with Live by Night, which is a narrative of Joseph Coughlin's life of crime from 1926-1935. Joseph, as you may recall, is Boston Police Department Deputy Superintentent Thomas Coughlin's son in The Given Day. Joseph, a small time hood, is involved in a bank heist, in which three policemen get killed in the ensuing car chase. While Joseph escapes, he is later recognized and captured (and beaten to a pulp) by policemen, following Thomas' orders.

While in prison, he meets and impresses mob boss Maso Pescatore. When Joseph is released, Maso sends him to Tampa to revive an ailing illegal bootlegging business, which he does quite nicely.

But it's not the story that makes Live by Night worth reading, for the story is uncompelling, at least to this reader. It is the characters and their limits. Joseph would rather be deemed a gangster than an outlaw, the distinction being one commits murder and one doesn't. The Tampa police chief, Irv Figgis, is OK with illegal rum running as long as it's on the outskirts of town. Thomas Coughlin, after living a life of graft, is faced with becoming a lackey of Maso in order to protect his son in prison. What are his limits? Local businessmen, pillars of the community, hidden underneath white cloaks, commit outrageous acts of violence. The bigotry in a region inhabited by whites, Cubans, Spanish and Blacks is blatant. The treatment of women is appalling, especially women of color. Many will try to counter these inhumane acts with acts of humanity. Does one offset the other? It is Lehane's description of people and the times that make Live by Night another must read.

It is a father's love for a child (Thomas and Joseph, Irv and his daughter Loretta, Jospeh and his son Tomas) and the extent and nature of that love that makes Live by Night worth reading. Some of us grew up with undemonstrative or even mean parents, especially fathers, yet knew how much we were loved. Some may know what happens to a parent when a child is hooked on drugs. Some may know the sheer joy in a father's eye upon the mere sight of his child. Lehane explores this as well.

If you're in the mood for a good story, Live by Night will entertain you. If you are in the mood to understand what makes people tick, Live by Night will give you material to think about.
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LibraryThing member ewhatley
Lehane never fails to satisfy. Interesting characters and plot. Typical surprise ending from this awesome author. Highly recommend.
LibraryThing member BluesGal79
If Dennis Lehane gets any better at his craft, we will know he is supernatural.

This follow-up to The Given Day, which I also reviewed in my list here somewhere, is even more powerful than its forebear. It could well serve as a stand-alone, but why cheat yourself?

Stunning. Absolutely stunning.… (more)
LibraryThing member Barb_H
Won a copy from Goodreads First Reads Giveaway.

Really excited about this one. I've read a few other books by Dennis Lehane and loved them.

Awesome book set in the late 1920s and early 1930s during prohibition and gangster times. Started off set in Boston and then relocated to Tampa. As a Tampa native it made the book even more interesting since I know of all the places mentioned in the book and could easily picture it in my mind. Especially Ybor City since not much has changed there. Dennis Lehane is a terrific author and I will most definitely be reading any other books he writes that I haven't already read!… (more)
LibraryThing member jen.e.moore
Don't have time to read this now. Will get back to it...sometime when there isn't a waiting list at the library.
LibraryThing member ktp50
I really enjoyed this book. It is somewhat of a continuation of Dennis Lehane's earlier work: The Given Day. This time the youngest son of the Couglin clan is featured. He is an educated outlaw with a good heart but an irrestable urge toward the unlawful. The story moves along a fast pace and the reader is instantly drawn into the action. This is a hightly readable book where the action moves from Boston to Tampa to Cuba.… (more)
LibraryThing member LiteraryLinda
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.… (more)
LibraryThing member elmoelle
Because of the settings of author Dennis Lehane's other books, I anticipated that this story about prohibition era gangsters would center around Boston. The story did start there but then quickly moved south when the main character, Joe Coughlin, is sent to Tampa, Florida to take over the liquor business there.
Most of the other books I have read about prohibition era gangsters took place in cities, so it was really interesting to see how the usual gangster problems intermixed with issues of race, such as dealing with the KKK, and with the vibrant population of Cuban nationalists.
I really enjoyed following Joe Coughlin's story to see how his morals were shaped by the positions he found himself in and how these morals were shaped by the philanthropic leanings of a woman he meets named Graciela and how these morals clashed with the stricter religious leanings of Tampa's police chief.
I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in historical fiction of the prohibition era as well as anyone who is interested in considering how you arrive a definition of right and wrong.
As a side note, I read this in the summer, but as a native of upstate New York, I can imagine that if I had read Lehane's descriptions of the pre-air conditioning humidity in Tampa during a long, cold winter, this book would have been even more appreciated.
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LibraryThing member techeditor
Dennis Lehane has been a dependably great mystery/thriller/suspense writer for many years. But readers who pick up LIVE BY NIGHT with the expectation of more of the same may be disappointed. While this book is Lehane’s usual exceptionably good writing, mystery/thriller/suspense it is not. This is historical fiction.

Yes, it won the Edgar Award in 2013, which may lead you to believe that I am wrong. Go ahead, read it, and you’ll see.

LIVE BY NIGHT is sort of a continuation of Lehane’s previous book, THE GIVEN DAY, his first deviation from mystery/thriller/suspense. I say “sort of” because LIVE BY NIGHT concentrates on one of THE GIVEN DAY’s lesser characters, Joseph, the little brother in THE GIVEN DAY all grown up and a gangster in LIVE BY NIGHT. But our hero is a gangster with a conscience.

This is about the days of gangsters and prohibition and speakeasies (“speaks”) and easy murders. Lehane writes this genre just as well as he did mystery/thriller/suspense. But LIVE BY NIGHT is historical fiction and not what bestowers of the Edgar Award imply.

I won this book from BV Lawson at
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LibraryThing member librarianbryan
Okay for what it was but not really my thing. With so much cartoonish sex and violence, it should have been 200 pages shorter and not as moralizing. It made me miss Jim Thompson or Gary Indiana. For an award winning genre exercise, no one else in my book club finished it either, except for one member whose father was an Irish mafia member.… (more)
LibraryThing member kr04bps
again, the effects of violence on individuals and families.
LibraryThing member nmele
Lehane certainly engages his readers with character, plot and color, but this sequel to "The Given Day" lacked a certain something. It reminded me of a much earlier novel which I think superior, Puzo's "The Godfather".




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