Friday, November 7, 2008

DENNIS LEHANE'S THE GIVEN DAY

I'll grant you that The Given Day is a different for Lehane. It is twice as long as his other books and painstakingly researched, packed with historical events and figures. But The Given Day is still a "Dennis Lehane" novel, no doubt about it. This isn't the boring historical fiction that crowds the shelves of the "Barnes & Noble Recommends" section, no sir. This is historical fiction more along the lines of James Ellroy's The Cold Six-Thousand or Elmore Leonard's The Hot Kid. Shit, there's the blurb right there:

"Dennis Lehane's The Given Day reads like a frenzied mix of James Ellroy's The Cold Six-Thousand and Elmore Leonard's The Hot Kid."

Man, I'm fucking awesome. Anyway, that is how The Given Day goes down: it has the down-and-dirty skinny on history that Ellroy relishes only it's delivered in a fluid prose sure to please any Leonard fan. Do not be put off by the length and cover of this book, it is a shit ton (that's metric, mind) of fucking fun. And on the plus side, you can fool your NPR tote-bag friends into thinking you're reading the next Memoirs of a Geisha while you're really having a pulpy good time, just with a "literary" cover.

The Given Day follows Danny Coughlin, the son of a prominent police captain, as he goes undercover to infiltrate the "Bolsheviki" unions in post-WWI Boston with the hope that his investigation will earn him a promotion to detective. Eventually, our other protagonist, Luther Laurence, crosses his path when he comes to Boston in hopes of hiding out from some vicious Tulsa gangsters he has recently run afoul of. The two become caught up in history as the turbulent times blah-blah-fucking-blah.

A summary only makes this book sound dry as fuck, something it definitely is NOT. The violence hits hard, the language is profane and funny, the characters are sharp, the pace is lightning fast, and the story is the stuff of high classic melodrama (that is a compliment, snobs). The Given Day is an epic written in blood and guts. It's like the best of American movies: lofty themes delivered via an entertaining genre story (Chinatown, Godfather, Wild Bunch).

So do not be put off by the sheer weight of the book or its pretentious cover or the historical setting. This book will kick your ass and make the pages fly just as fast as they did when you read Darkness, Take My Hand or Mystic River. Lehane may have branched out some, but he certainly did not alienate his devotees.

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