Gritty excellence May 13, 2009
Dennis Lehane is a very interesting writer -- he made his mark with gritty, edgy crime novels like A Drink Before The War and Gone Baby Gone, but showed his literary chops with the phenomenal Mystic River. He also penned Shutter Island which is more of a thriller, and I believe is being made into a feature film.
But The Given Day bears little resemblance to any of those excellent books, except in the simple fact that it is incredibly good.
Set in Boston just after the first World War, The Given Day follows a few key players - Aiden "Danny" Coughlin, a Boston cop trying to make his own mark in the shadow of his father Thomas; Luther Laurence, a black ("Negro" here) amateur baseball player who is forced to run away from his past, including his pregnant wife; and, of all people, Babe Ruth. The influenza pandemic has just swept through the country and Boston is being threatened by political terrorists, all while the police force tries to organize to get a respectable wage.
If a book about unions, the development of the NAACP, Irish cops and race relations doesn't sound particularly compelling, then I haven't done a very good job writing about the book here. As the novel worms its way to the finish, the sense of foreboding, of knowing that the city is set to explode (and does) is truly gripping. The character development is such that it's hard to pull away from the book, and the conclusions feel real, unforced and satisfying.
The Given Day is a phenomenal book. As I understand it, Martin Scorcese is making it into a movie, but I'd recommend reading the book on its own long before that shows up.