TBR Challenge: Books Read in 2022 – 10. Live by Night – Dennis Lehane

Genre: Crime fiction

Narrative Style: Third person chronological

Rating: 3/5

Published: 2012

Format: Kindle

Synopsis: Joe Coughlin has turned away from his strict upbringing to live a life of crime. He is has graduated from petty crime to working for some of the most fearsome mobsters in the city. When he falls in love with the girlfriend of Albert White, head of a rival gang, it is inevitable that he is heading for trouble. Live by Night follows Joe’s journey to prison and then to Florida where he climbs the ranks to become gang leader himself.

Reading Challenges: TBR Pile Challenge

Time on Shelf: About eighteen months.

I was really looking forward to this book, having read two Lehane novels before and really enjoyed them (Mystic River and Shutter Island). Both of those were compelling and difficult to put down. Unfortunately this one didn’t quite live up to them. In fact, I struggled to finish it.

While I like crime fiction, I don’t often read stories about mobsters or gangsters and part of the problem was that didn’t really appeal to me. To be fair to Lehane, I think he did a good job of setting the scene in 1920s America during prohibition, but I felt that the story and the characters didn’t sparkle enough to pull me in.

Joe Coughlin was a fairly likeable character and it was easy to root for him and hope that he would do well. In fact, at the beginning, when he was a thief working for one of the crime bosses but with big ideas of his own, I thought I’m really going to enjoy this. Then he falls for Emma Gould and he loses the ability to think straight. It is annoying when a character’s stupidity is used as a plot device although obviously people are stupid in real life. However, the fact that Joe gets caught because he goes back for Emma didn’t quite ring true to me.

From then on, I found the narrative to be a bit flabby. There didn’t seem to be anything particularly pushing the narrative forward. There was nothing to compel the reader onwards. At first, there was the thought that Joe might meet Emma again in the future but it was so long before she reappeared in the narrative that I’d almost forgotten her.

The relationship between Joe and his police chief father, Thomas, was interesting and could have been further developed had Thomas not been killed off quite early in the book. Other areas of tension, such as Joe’s relationship with a former friend who betrayed him, were similarly undeveloped.

In the end, I carried on reading just so I could finish it. I don’t like abandoning books but at times I was very close.

Books read in 2015 – 11. Shutter Island – Dennis Lehane (Contains Spoilers)

Genre: Crime, Madness

Narrative Style: Third person51LCaxGm-UL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

Rating: 5/5

Published: 2004

Format:Paperback

Synopsis: Teddy Daniels has arrived on Shutter Island with his partner to investigate the disappearance of one of the patients. From the very beginning, things don’t seem quite right to Teddy who already has suspicions about what goes on at the hospital. Things are definitely not as they seem but is it Teddy who is delusional or the hospital that is keeping secrets from him.

I had already seen the film of Shutter Island but it was so affecting that when I realised that it was based on a novel, I was excited to read it even though I knew what the ending was. I do wish that I could have read it blind but I suppose it would be similar to my feelings at the end of the film. Watching the film, I was completely taken in by Teddy and was absolutely shocked when it turns out that he is the lost patient. Reading the book, I was not taken in in the same way but there was a new delight to be had; spotting the clues that Lehane gives to the reader about the true nature of Teddy’s character.

The style of writing was almost typical crime writing with a certain detachment from the subject matter. And at first, Teddy seems like a typical crime fighter – all macho, having seen things in the war that no one should see. However, as the novel progresses, he becomes both more paranoid and more emotional. He starts to lose his grip on reality. If you were reading this without knowledge of the film then it would be perfectly easy to be led along by his decline – to believe that he has stumbled across some great conspiracy. Lehane makes us believe in Teddy that much. Having seen the film, I felt I was a bit less involved than I might have been but this is in no way Lehane’s fault.

The ending is just as affecting even though I knew what was coming. Teddy slowly comes to the realisation that he is the one who has killed his wife and his is the lost patient. The hospital have taken a huge risk – taking him off his medication – in order to try and force him to see the truth. If Teddy cannot face reality then he will be lobotomized – something his doctors do not want. The flicker of hope that the reader feels when Teddy acknowledges his crime is quickly extinguished when in the final chapter, he is back in his delusion and he can see the porters coming to take him away.

The ending of the novel raises the question of how to deal with patients like Teddy. Even though he killed his wife, I felt a great deal of sympathy for him. His elaborate fantasy was due to his inability to accept what he had done, not only to his wife but what he allowed to happen to his children as well. His sense of self was destroyed by the crime. So he could spend the rest of his life in his delusion or he could be lobotomised. Neither option offers much hope.