The Given Day, by Dennis Lehane

Set around the end of WW1, this follows the story of Danny, a Boston cop, and Luther, a black man on the run after killing a criminal gang leader in the mid-west. In the background, Babe Ruth, who's at the peak of his career, features as someone who witnesses the events affecting Danny and Luther, and is himself touched by them.

Working my way through the Lehane canon and I've yet to come across two of his books which feel like they're in the same genre. This one is set in the period just before that of Live By Night, but has a more historical saga feel to it. To start with it reminded me of something like The Rich Are Different by Susan Howatch; it's less gritty than his other books and more romantic I think. And long.

But I soon came to realise that much of the story is based around historical events and characters - specifically the period leading up to the Boston Police Strike of 1919, which I'd never heard of before. I hadn't realised that Spanish Flu had been so severe in America, nor was I familiar with the bombing campaign of anarchist groups and the consequent fear of bolsheviks and subversives in the US towards the end of World War 1, to say nothing of the Boston Molasses Disaster.

Reading up on some of this stuff afterwards in Wikipedia, it's clear that Lehane has stuck pretty close to the historical facts, and also that he has his own ideas about the rights and wrongs of the police strike. But it wasn't at all didactic or preachy, and the book was a great read. He made Boston and the events feel very real, and it's quite striking to realise that this only happened a hundred years ago - practically within living memory.

Next on my Lehane list is Gone Baby Gone which I understand is one of a series about a pair of detectives, so I guess it'll be different again from the other books I've read. Looking forward to it.

And one other thing which I keep forgetting to mention: I notice that in every Lehane book I've read so far, there'll be a character who smokes, and on at least one occasion is described as picking a shred of tobacco from his tongue. This must be something he's doing deliberately.

Completed : 07-Apr-2013

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