UPDATE: Finished The Given Day this afternoon — I can’t recommend it highly enough! Wonderful read — lots of characters, but Lehane’s writing makes it easy to keep track of them — and perfectly set up for a sequel to follow Danny, Nora, Luther, and the Babe into the 1920s. Can’t wait!!
Sometimes I’m a little slow to the party when it comes to popular culture, but I’ve recently become a Dennis Lehane fanatic. I read an enthusiastic review of his 2008 historical novel The Given Day and decided to check him, and it, out.
So I meandered over to the library to see if we had it, and upon finding it I discovered that Lehane was the author of Gone, Baby, Gone and Mystic River among other novels. I picked up GBG and THG and dove in. I started with GBG (without having seen the movie) and learned that it was the fourth (I think) in Lehane’s series involving the private detective duo of Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro. I read it — and was flabbergasted.
As others have noted, Lehane is a magician when it comes to dialogue — not just realistic but truly authentic. Regardless of their race, class, or ethnic background, his characters speak in a gritty, honest way that simply pulls the reader in. In addition, the story — in this case, it involves a missing little girl, her drugged out mother, and a cast of baddies — is fast-paced and very compelling. I couldn’t put it down, devouring it in two nights.
Having finished it, I set The Given Day aside and became determined to get the other Kenzie-Gennaro books; I did so at The Strand Bookstore in New York City (thanks, Amy!) and was bummed to see that they didn’t have them all. I bought the first one, A Drink before the War, and gulped it down in a couple of sittings as well. I wasn’t disappointed — same style of dialogue, same cool plot — though it was weird going back to the beginning of the relationship of the two detectives, having previously joined it later in time with GBG. So now I’m trying to get my hands on the other parts of the series, Prayers for Rain, Mystic River, and Sacred.
In the meantime, I’ve started The Given Day, which unlike the aforementioned is a historical novel. Set in Boston (the same setting as the Kenzie-Gennaro books) in 1918, it tells the stories of Boston cop Danny Coughlin and Luther Laurence, an African American on the run from troubles in Tulsa. Lehane has chosen a great time and place for this novel — the end of World War I, the horrible flu epidemic that really takes off in Boston, the Boston Police strike — and many interesting historical figures wander in and out of the narrative. People like Babe Ruth, Calvin Coolidge, Samuel Gompers, Jack Reed, Eugene O’Neill, W.E.B. DuBois, and a host of others.
I started it Monday night, and got so into it last night that I was up until 3:00! Lehane hooks you right away, with a long prologue about Red Sox star Ruth wandering from a stop at a train station in Ohio into a nearby ballfield where two black teams are playing. Eventually Ruth, some of his Red Sox teammates, and members of their World Series opponents, the Chicago Cubs (the two teams are travelling together from Chicago to Boston), join the game. It’s stunningly done, and I can’t wait to finish it!
So if you’re looking for a good read, pick up any Dennis Lehane, and I guarantee satisfaction. And if you’ve read any of his other work, please share your comments!