Saturday, July 30, 2016

An Epic Conclusion to Dennis Lehane's Coughlin Family Trilogy

This excellent novel concludes the Coughlin Family trilogy that Dennis Lehane began with The Given Day. Through the three books, the story ultimately comes to focus on Joe Coughlin and is set against background of the nation's turbulent history from the end of World War I to the middle of World War II. Joe is the son of a Boston cop, Danny Coughlin, but he ultimately rises to become a major crime boss with principal interests in Tampa and in Cuba. He's associated with the noted gangsters of the day, including Meyer Lansky and Charles "Lucky" Luciano.

As this book opens in the spring of 1943, Joe, though still a young man, has essentially retired from active duty and now acts as a consigliere to the Bartolo crime family. He's the man who mediates disputes and smooths the path so that other criminals can play well together. He's a major earner who fronts a number of legitimate businesses and plays a critical role as organized crime makes a fortune out of the raging world war.

As a practical matter, Joe is the Essential Man, and as a result, he's untouchable--or at least that's what everyone thinks. But then someone tells Joe that there's a contract out on his life. At first he can't believe it, but then he gradually comes to realize that it may be true. Even more than fearing for his own life, Joe worries about the fate of his young son. Joe is a widower and naturally wonders what would become of his son were he to be killed.

Joe has precious little time to determine who might want him dead or why and even less time to figure out what he might do about it. And as we watch him sort through his options and react to the forces arrayed against him, the reader finds him or herself in a serious moral dilemma: Why are we rooting so hard for a man who is pretty much the essence of evil?

This is a gripping, thought-provoking story with a great protagonist and a very well-drawn set of supporting characters. As he has demonstrated in so many books by now, Dennis Lehane is a very powerful and gifted writer, and this is easily my favorite of his books since Mystic River. It's a great conclusion to the Coughlin family trilogy. I usually give very little weight to author blurbs, but in this case I would make an exception. Stephen King calls this "The best gangster novel since The Godfather," and he'll get no argument from me. 4.5 stars.

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